A Surrey man has been sentenced to 18 months in jail followed by 12 months probation for possessing heroin and fentanyl for the purposes of trafficking in Vernon.
In 2017, police were investigating a group of people they knew were bringing drugs from the Lower Mainland to Vernon for distribution. As a result of the investigation, Sung Hwan Choi, 23, was arrested in October 2017 along with a trafficking accomplice named Dawn Larson. The two were caught in possession with a mixture of heroin and fentanyl. Choi was later found to be the street-level dealer while Larson was his driver.
“Part of the (investigation) was to follow the people they believed were involved in the supply chain, and ultimately arrest the street-level traffickers,” Judge Jeremy Guild said, as he stated the facts of the lengthy case Wednesday afternoon at the Vernon Law Courts.
Choi and Larson were found guilty at the conclusion of their trial on May 23, 2019.
Choi was found to have come to Vernon from Surrey for the “express purpose of selling drugs,” according to Guild’s statements.
Choi said in a previous hearing he did not intend to harm people and had not known the drugs he was selling contained fentanyl, but Judge Guild made it clear he wasn’t buying that excuse.
“Those statements indicate a considerable lack of insight,” he said. “It’s very easy to find information online and elsewhere about the harms of selling hard drugs, including heroin and especially fentanyl.”
Choi was vying for a suspended sentence on the basis that he had exceptional circumstances, such as the fact that he had been on bail for a lengthy period of time.
Guild pointed out that while there had been many delays in the process of dealing with this case, Choi himself was partly responsible since he had failed to comply with his bail supervisor following his arrest.
“To some extent he was responsible for that time. It was not a mitigating factor,” Judge Guild said.
Choi had pointed to his volunteer work since committing the crime and the fact he had found steady employment and had a plan in place for his future. Judge Guild said while some of Choi’s circumstances were mitigating, they were not a basis for a suspended sentence.
“It is the crime that is exceptional, not the offender’s circumstances,” Judge Guild said, adding Choi was motivated “solely by greed” and not by any necessity to sell drugs.
Choi was introduced to drug trafficking by a friend in high school — a friend who was murdered last year as a result of his involvement in the drug trade.
Judge Guild said the death of Choi’s friend appears to be the primary cause of the changes Choi has made in his life since his arrest, rather than the arrest itself.
“He failed to immediately sever his association with the criminal subculture after his arrest. Unlike many exceptional cases, his arrest did not deter him,” Judge Guild said.