The owner of a former downtown Kelowna clothing store was sentenced to 11 years in jail Tuesday for trafficking fentanyl on the dark web from his Kelowna home.
James Nelson and his common-law partner Cassie Bonthoux opened the Duke & Duchess clothing store on Pandosy Street in 2013, but behind the scenes, Nelson was shipping packages of fentanyl and the even more potent opioid carfentanil around the world.
Both Nelson and Bonthoux were arrested in August 2017, a year after a Calgary police officer stumbled upon an advertisement for fentanyl and carfentanil on the dark web market AlphaBay while investigating another case. The drugs were being sold by the username FatTuesday_13.
The Calgary police turned their attention to FatTuesday_13, and an officer purchased two separate shipments of fentanyl and carfentanil from the user, costing about $125 USD each.
FatTuesday_13 described himself as a “one of the premium fentanyl vendors in Western Canada.”
The packages arrived by Canada Post about a week after purchase. The envelopes contained a Homes & Land Okanagan magazine and the small baggies of drugs were found inside two glued-together pages.
The Calgary police were notified by the American Internal Revenue Service that FatTuesday_13 was likely a James Nelson who lived on Loseth Drive in Kelowna. The IRS had learned this information from a prior investigation.
During this time, the Kelowna RCMP were assisting the Calgary police by surveilling both Nelson and Bonthoux. Police witnessed Bonthoux mailing several packages and picking up a large stack of Homes & Land Okanagan magazines.
But the investigation appeared to hit a snag after authorities intercepted a shipment of drugs to Nelson and Bonthoux’s home on Nov. 3, 2016. Three days later, FatTuesday_13 posted he had gone on “vacation mode,” and the account became inactive. But then, the following July, police noticed the same username had popped up on another dark web market, the Dream Market. FatTuesday_13 advertised that he had the “best stealth period” when it came to shipping drugs.
On Aug. 10, 2017, several weeks after FatTuesday_13 became active again on the dark web, police arrested Bonthoux while she was at Duke & Duchess, and Nelson while he was in the middle of mailing several packages containing various amounts of fentanyl and carfentanil. The packages were destined for Texas, California, Ontario, Cyprus and Australia.
Nelson and Bonthoux’s young son was with Nelson when he was arrested. The child was removed from Nelson and Bonthoux’s home and placed in the care of his grandparents.
During several search warrants, police found 102.9 grams of the extremely potent carentanil at the couple’s home, along with trafficking paraphernalia like scales, score sheets and 97 Canada Post receipts from the previous month. He was also found with about 19.2 Bitcoins that were worth just over $83,000 at the time.
Police found messages to Nelson from an unidentified person about shipping drugs wholesale to Nelson through legitimate shipments of clothing.
At the time, police called Nelson and Bonthoux’s operation “one of the most significant and perhaps the most sophisticated fentanyl/carfentanil trafficking and exportation enterprises that has been uncovered in Canada to date.”
Nelson and Bonthoux weren’t charged until a year later, when the Crown laid 14 separate charges against them for their trafficking enterprise. Nelson pleaded guilty in April to trafficking 1.52 grams of fentanyl and possession of 102.9 grams of carfentanil for the purpose of trafficking. As part of the plea deal, the Crown dropped all other charges against Nelson, and dropped all charges against Bonthoux.
While the Crown had sought a 16-year total sentence for Nelson’s two convictions, Nelson’s defence had asked for “less than double digits.” On Tuesday, the judge said he would have sentenced him to the full 16 years if it wasn’t for mitigating factors like Nelson’s guilty plea and his own opioid addiction that Nelson claimed fuelled his trafficking endeavour. Nelson claimed that he and Bonthoux were using upwards of $10,000 worth of opioids every month, and their clothing store was not profitable.
Nelson has been out of custody on bail since his arrest in 2017. Several of Nelson’s family members were in the Kelowna courtroom Tuesday, crying as he was taken away by the sheriff following sentencing. Nelson will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months.