Just six months after a BC Supreme Court judge found him guilty of trafficking fentanyl in Fort St. John, Dana Andrew Nazarek has been arrested and charged once again for allegedly dealing the deadly and illicit opioid, responsible for killing more than 1,100 British Columbians last year — 14 of them in Northeast B.C.
Fort St. John RCMP say Nazarek, 46, was arrested and charged with four counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking after a drug and weapons bust Feb. 24 at a home in the 8900 block of 87 Avenue.
Under a search warrant, the RCMP’s Drug Section and Crime Reduction Unit seized 800 suspected fentanyl tablets and two ounces of suspected fentanyl. Police also seized quantities of suspected crack cocaine and crystal meth, five loaded firearms, and $38,000 in cash.
Nazarek is in custody and scheduled to appear in court March 12 to answer to the charges, police say. Further charges may be added as the investigation continues, police say. Nazarek has not been found guilty.
History of trafficking
According to the court registry, Nazarek was already scheduled to appear March 12 to set a date for sentencing after he was convicted in August 2017 for possessing both fentanyl and cocaine for the purposes of trafficking. Nazarek was also found guilty of possessing the proceeds of crime.
The ruling stemmed from a raid on Nazarek and his wife Laura's home in December 2013, where police found more than 2,000 fentanyl pills disguised as counterfeit OxyContin, along with more than a kilogram of cocaine and more than $100,000 in Canadian and American cash.
The value of the drugs was estimated up to $138,000, and RCMP testified the home’s laundry room was used to process the drugs. The drug operation was “indicative of a mid-level supplier,” RCMP testified.
In his defence, Nazarek’s lawyer argued there was no evidence Nazarek had knowledge the seized pills were drugs, and “may have believed that they were some sort of vitamins, antacids, or even breath mints,” according to the ruling. The defence also argued there was no evidence of where the pills had come from, and no witnesses to testify they had bought drugs at the house or from Nazarek.
The defence tried to have the case thrown out, saying Nazarek's Charter right to be tried within a reasonable time had been violated, however, the Supreme Court dismissed that effort in a December 2017 ruling.
On Jan. 17, 2018, the Supreme Court sentenced Laura Wensley Nazarek to two years in jail after she pleaded guilty to possessing fentanyl and cocaine for the purpose of trafficking in relation to the 2013 bust. She was also sentenced to one year of probation upon her release, and assessed a $400 victim surcharge. The court noted the federal sentence was "at the low end of the range."
'Drug of choice'
The Nazareks' arrests and charges in 2013 came at a time when RCMP said fentanyl was starting to creep into the local illicit drug supply disguised as OxyContin, as that drug became more heavily regulated.
Fentanyl is up to 80 times more potent than morphine, and hundreds of times more potent than heroin, according to the Centre for Disease Control. It wasn't seen in Fort St. John until 2013 when the B.C. Coroners Service attributed two deaths to the drug. In 2014, that number jumped to four. In 2017, fatal overdoses from fentanyl-laced drugs had reached 14 in Northeast B.C., as the Coroners Service has amalgamated its township statistics for the region.
There were 125 fatal drug overdoses in B.C. in January 2018, just one of them in the Northeast, the latest available data. The stats do not break down how many of the deaths so far this year have involved fentanyl.
Today, Fort St. John RCMP say fentanyl is the drug of choice on the streets.
Detachment commander Insp. Mike Kurvers said police share the public’s frustration over the game of catch and release, but noted the court process is out of police hands. The police are responsible to follow up on any bail conditions placed on an offender upon their release by the courts, even as they await their sentencing in the community, he said.
"It’s a continuing battle," Kurvers said.
"The bottom line is that drug line is going to be filled by somebody else; there’s always somebody stepping next in line to take that job. We have to identify people, we have to disrupt, we have to target, we have to do all these investigative techniques to get the evidence to support charges and then we take action."
Nazarek was also arrested for trafficking fentanyl following a February 2015 raid on three city homes that seized more than 2,800 pills and other drugs. At a press conference announcing that bust, Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said she was concerned the "judicial system was a revolving door." Ackerman was not immediately available for comment Thursday as there was a meeting of the regional district board.
Court records don't appear to show what happened to Nazarek after his 2015 arrest, or whether he was ultimately charged.
Court records do show Nazarek was charged March 1, 2018, for escaping custody. Nazarek's last listed lawyer could not be reached Thursday.
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at email@example.com.