An alleged member of a drug gang can use more than $32,000 seized in a major RCMP bust to pay for his legal defence, a judge ruled Thursday.
The money was seized by local RCMP as part of a massive drug bust last September involving 300 officers from Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary and led to the arrest of 42 suspects.
Some of the cash was also seized Aug. 23,1999.
Altogether, $290,000 in cash and 1.6 kg of. powder and crack cocaine was seized in Alberta.
Police nabbed 15 Red Deer suspects in the drug operation tied to organized crime, including the accused; 24, who faces 21 narcotics-related charges.
The lawyer, Pat Fagan, argued that his client would not have the money to pay for his legal defence without the seized cash.
“He did not want a lawyer through Legal Aid,” he said outside court following the decision by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice J.K. Holmes. Fagan said the application to get the money back was unique to Alberta since the Criminal Code was changed in 1997.
“To my knowledge this is the first one in Alberta under this particular section,” he said.
Holmes ruled June 14 that the accused was entitled, to use up to $32,601 in Canadian funds and $50 US seized by RCMP.
Thursday’s hearing was to determine how much of the money could be used to pay for a “reasonable” legal defence for the accused.
Crown prosecutor Robert Short said the law makes it clear the accused is entitled to a lawyer but not a “Rolls Royce lawyer”. “The Crown’s position is remuneration on a Legal Aid scale would be reasonable,” Short told the judge.
That would work out to about $20,000 to cover the cost of a 10-day preliminary hearing and 20-day trial.
Holmes ruled that the accused was entitled to pay more than-the going Legal Aid rate of $67.10 an hour for a lawyer because of his complex case.
“There will be expert evidence. There will be a good deal of time spent going over wire tap evidence, searches, search warrant evidence etc.
“All of which could lead to constitutional challenges.” Holmes accepted Fagan’s offer to provide the accused legal defence for $123 an hour.
That is the same rate the Crown is paying Short. The court heard he negotiated a 50 per cent increase in hourly pay to handle the prosecution of the huge drug case.
Fagan, a Calgary lawyer who specializes in drug cases, told the judge he would not take the case at Legal Aid rates.
Holmes estimated the preliminary hearing and trial will cost about $31,500. Pre-trial preparation and other expenses will add to that bill.
The sale of the accused 1996 Mazda Miata could be used to cover those costs, he said.
The accused will not be able to use $144 in marked bills used by the RCMP during its undercover drug operation.
The accused is next expected to appear in Red Deer provincial court Monday.