A 27-year-old mother from Ndilo was handed a four-and-a-half-year sentence for what a judge described as her integral role in a high-profile drug operation RCMP cracked open in 2016.
NWT Supreme Court in Yellowknife heard Katrina Stiopu arranged and co-ordinated the storage of drugs at properties in Ndilo and Dettah for a drug network headed up by Todd Dube.
Stiopu was arrested in April 2016 after RCMP intercepted her mother and grandmother bringing drugs across the NWT-Alberta border to Yellowknife – a deal Stiopu organized.
Stiopu pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to traffic cocaine, fentanyl and marijuana and has been in custody at the Fort Smith Correctional Complex since her arrest.
In delivering her decision Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood spoke of the dangers associated with fentanyl.
She cited recent overdoses on the drug in the NWT and continuing problems with cocaine trafficking.
Stiopu’s lawyer, Jay Bran, told Yellowknifer outside court Smallwood’s decision shows the courts are taking a stronger position on fentanyl-related offences.
“It’s obviously a very serious drug and the courts have recognized that and are taking the appropriate steps in sentencing,” he said. “The courts are making it very clear: if you deal with fentanyl, you’re gonna have very serious consequences.”
During sentencing Smallwood referenced a pre-sentence report that described Stiopu’s upbringing as a good one filled with family.
Although Stiopu later used alcohol and drugs, the report said, she was steadily employed and raising her six-year-old daughter.
She has no prior criminal record.
“If I had known this was going to separate me from my daughter, I never would have done it,” Yellowknifer reported Stiopu as saying in a December hearing.
However, Smallwood expressed concern Stiopu had not learned from her experience.
Communications RCMP intercepted between Stiopu and Dube as part of the Project Green Manalishi drug investigation showed she was a “significant person” in Dube’s drug ring.
Still, Stiopu seemed to minimize her involvement in the operation and claimed she was a victim, said Smallwood.
As a result, Stiopu will have to bear the consequences of her choices as a result, said Smallwood.
The prosecution requested the judge impose a five-year sentence; the defense suggested her time already served would be more appropriate.
The four-and-a-half-year sentence angered some people in the gallery, who Bran described as family of Stiopu’s.
Two individuals stormed out of the court room as Smallwood delivered the sentence, cursing the court and shouting profanities.
Stiopu will receive 31.5 months credit off of her sentence for time she has already served in custody.
That leaves her with 22.5 months of jail time remaining.
“It’s a little bit higher than what we wanted, but we also knew it was also within the range,” said Bran of the sentence. “We were hoping that the court would consider some more of her mitigating circumstances.”
Stiopu also faces a 10-year firearms prohibition and a DNA order.
In October, Dube, 22, was sentenced to nine years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and possession of proceeds of crime which included cash and diamonds.
Dube was also handed his sentence by Smallwood in Supreme Court and at the time she told court cocaine ruins lives and fentanyl sometimes ends them.
– with files from Brendan Burke