Cocaine courier found guilty

Ronald Charles Learning was arrested in Salmon Arm after a police investigation into the transportation of cocaine from California.

A Vernon man has been found guilty of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking in Saskatchewan after being arrested in Salmon Arm in October 2011.

Ronald Charles Learning, born in 1983, will be sentenced in Regina Provincial Court in June for his roles in one of the largest drug busts in Saskatchewan’s history.

Justice Beaton heard how Learning was arrested in October 2011 in Salmon Arm as the result of a lengthy police investigation into the transportation of cocaine from California into Canada via the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border near the town of Val Marie, Sask.

A criminal-turned-police agent, associated with the trafficking, was given 30 kilograms of a cocaine substitute which included nine grams of actual cocaine and a tracking device. While wearing an audio recording and transmission, the agent proceeded to cross the border on an all-terrain vehicle in order to meet a courier, believed to be Learning, in the remote part of Saskatchewan.

Police obtained a description of the vehicle Learning would be driving and set up surveillance in a number of locations as Learning’s vehicle – a Ford Windstar minivan – made its way to the meeting spot near Val Marie, and then to Salmon Arm where Learning’s vehicle was stopped by police.

Court heard how Learning met the agent in an abandoned farmyard a few miles north of the border, and took control of the sham cocaine, and gave packages of pills and $10,000 cash to the agent for delivery to the U.S.

The agent observed that the pills and cash had been hidden in secret compartments in the van, and that the sham cocaine was later placed in the compartments.

As Learning made his way to B.C., police decided he should be arrested in Salmon Arm. As his van was stopped at a red light, officers surrounded the van. Learning was the driver and sole occupant.

The vehicle was seized and searched, and the sham cocaine was found hidden in the two fake compartments.

The cocaine Learning was expected to be carrying would have been worth between $1.2 and $2.3 million, depending on how it was to be broken down and sold.

Defense counsel admitted the possession of the cocaine would have been for the purpose of trafficking.

“The whole of the evidence points to no other reasonable conclusion that the accused was the courier who met with the agent,” wrote Justice Beaton. “I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking…

“…The accused was well aware that he was receiving illicit drugs to transport to B.C. He was also prepared for this task as he possessed numerous cell phones, had the tool required to open hidden compartments and had energy drinks to keep him awake during this trip.”

Learning is also slated to go to trial in Vernon Supreme Court in October on possession of firearms offences related to an arrest in January 2013 that started with a seizure of a large amount of heroin at the Vancouver Airport.

On Jan. 13, 2015, a search warrant was executed at a Vernon residence where four loaded handguns, more than $10,000 in cash and various types and amounts of both prescription and non-prescription drugs were seized.