High fines for 2 men caught in Ontario First Nation cannabis raids

An Ontario Provincial Police crest is displayed on the arm of an officer during a press conference in Vaughan, Ont., on Thursday, June 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Lahodynskyj

By Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent

Hefty fines have been handed out to two men involved in drug raids at an Aamjiwnaang cannabis shop in Ontario.

Derek Donkers, 35 from Sarnia, and Steven Caza, 38 from Windsor, were in Sarnia court on Nov. 6 pleading guilty to charges under the Cannabis Act. The men were involved with illegal sales of the drug made from the Pot of Gold cannabis store on St. Clair Pkwy on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

The first incident took place in December 2018. Sarnia Police’s Vice Unit had been observing the business for some time and suspected illegal sales were taking place. While the store was licensed to sell cannabis, all product sold must come from greenhouses operated by Health Canada. The Vice Unit believed this wasn’t the case at Pot of Gold.

The Unit received a warrant on Dec. 20 and moved into the business — being operated out of a sea container on the property — at 3:30 p.m. Four employees inside were arrested. In addition to Donkers, Ryan Bressette, 37 from Aamjiwnaang, Arnold Mayers, 62 of Corunna, and Ricardo Tersigni, 20 of Sarnia, were taken into custody.

Police found a massive amount of drugs inside, including 22 pounds of fresh cannabis worth $99,000, edibles and other cannabis products worth $12,752, and $9,260 in cash.

Pot of Gold was right back in the eyes of the law less than six months later when their actions drew the attention of the Provincial Joint Forces Cannabis Enforcement Team, made up of officers from the OPP and Sarnia Police. The team found that the business owner, 40-year-old Melissa Portelance from Corunna, had previously been charged under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This helped the team obtain warrants to once again search Pot of Gold, along with a Corunna home on Secretariate Dr. and two vehicles.

At 12:45 pm on June 6 the OPP and Sarnia Vice Unit conducted simultaneous raids at the two locations. The Corunna house was empty, and as officers prepared to enter Pot of Gold they saw two men closing up the shop. The two men then took off through a large patch of tall grass next to the property.

Police pursued the two men to Chippewa Cres. on the other side of the tall grass field. They had taken off in a Hyundai car, but were quickly stopped by nearby police. Inside the Hyundai were Jeremy Carey, 34 from Sarnia, Marc Henderson, 27 from Sarnia, and Christopher Lagrone, 37 from Windsor. All three were arrested.

This raid yielded even more illicit material than the previous one. Thousands of grams of illegal cannabis was discovered, along with thousands of cannabis-related items including edibles, gummies, oils, packets, syringes, cigarettes, and more. Cash, bear spray, electronics, surveillance cameras and other merchandise was also discovered. The total value estimate of all items seized was $134,180.

Caza’s role in the operation was discovered when a search of one of the vehicles turned up his driver’s license. It was later revealed that the police’s request for a warrant was strengthened when Donkers unknowingly sold cannabis to an undercover officer just days before the raid.

“The facts speak to the extent of the enterprise,” Justice Deborah Austin says during sentencing. She imposed fines totalling $4,000 for Caza, and $4,500 for Donkers as he was involved in both raids.

Neither Donkers or Caza spoke during sentencing. Austin also handed both men lifetime weapons bans and ordered they forfeit any merchandise seized by police.

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