A former co-owner of a Hamilton pharmacy, charged with a drug trafficking scheme that allegedly involved the diversion of prescription narcotics to the underworld market, his charges have been dropped due to unreasonable court delay.
Angelo Kirkopoulos was charged by the RCMP on May 8, 2018 with multiple counts of drug possession, trafficking, and proceeds of crime.
At the time, he was a co-owner of the Mt. Cross Pharmacy on Concession Street, where RCMP alleged 400,000 doses of prescription drugs, including fentanyl, hydromorphone, oxycodone and amphetamines, were diverted.
Last Friday, Superior Court Judge Andrew Goodman stayed the charges against Kirkopoulos, finding that Hamilton’s Charter of Man rights were violated due to the amount of time that had elapsed since his arrest and the end of his early trial in January. .
The stay is among an unprecedented number of court cases that have been jeopardized by a backlogged system, in part due to pandemic restrictions.
A judicial stay is an extraordinary remedy and should be a last resort, Goodman wrote in his written decision in the case. “It is a right that should not be taken lightly.”
After multiple delays, including Kirkopoulos hiring a new defense attorney, suspending jury trials amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and then long waits for available courtrooms and judges, the trial was scheduled. to begin on January 9, 2023 and continue until approximately January 1. 20, more than four and a half years after being charged.
Under the case law, known as the Jordan decision, courts must hear provincial court cases within 18 months and High Court cases within 30 months.
Goodman found the total delay to be 56 1/2 months. From that total he subtracted seven months for delays caused by the defense, which do not count toward Jordan’s watch, and subtracted another 14 months due to the “exceptional circumstances” of the pandemic. The balance was a delay of 35 and a half months.
Defense attorneys Jaime Stephenson and Cristina Valeri filed the suit under Article 11(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They admitted that the defense caused some delay when Stephenson took up the case in July 2020, however the lawyer was “flexible and available within a short period of time,” the court heard.
According to the 23-page written decision, there were multiple scheduling issues. The trial had been scheduled for January 2022, however the court once again canceled jury trials due to the pandemic and trial dates were lost. The trial coordinator could not find new dates until 2023.
Geoff Roy of the Public Ministry of Canada argued that most of the delay should be attributed to defense and the pandemic, putting the delay at 26-28 months, below Jordan’s ceiling. However, Goodman disagreed.
“Based on my review of the transcripts and submitted materials, the unavailability of defense counsel, combined with the change of counsel, created a delay attributable to the defense and is a delay caused by the defense, but not to the extent that it advanced it. the Crown,” Goodman found.
“Mr. Kirkopoulos is very relieved to no longer have the burden of these charges on his head, as it has been for the last four years,” Stephenson said on behalf of his client. “Although he would have preferred the closing of an acquittal after the trial, he is happy to move on with his life and continue with his business and family.”
Stephenson said they spent months waiting for the court to set a new trial date after it was adjourned last January, with the defense and the Crown juggling schedules.
“It is clear that the backlog caused by COVID has overwhelmed available judicial remedies, specifically in Superior Court and with respect to jury trials,” he said.
Kirkopoulos previously pleaded guilty in September 2019 to fraud of less than $5,000 for writing a fake check and was sentenced to a conditional discharge and 18 months of probation.
The check fraud investigation coincided with the drug investigation, which began after Health Canada informed RCMP of alleged irregularities in the Mt. Cross books and inventory. At the same time, police were investigating a check cashing scam at a Hamilton convenience store that led to the fraud conviction.
Also convicted in connection with the check cashing scheme was Giuseppe (Pino) Avignone, who is linked to the Musitano Mob family. He pleaded guilty in May 2021 to fraud of more than $5,000 and received a 20-month suspended sentence.
Umair Nasim, the only pharmacist charged, pleaded guilty in April 2019 to breaching the rules relating to pharmacists under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. He was given probation and 18 months of probation.
Also in 2019, the federal Crown dropped a possession for trafficking charge against a Mississauga woman charged in the case.