Richmond man involved in cocaine smuggling jailed for 12 years

A Richmond man has been jailed for more than 12 years for his part in smuggling $7.5 million worth of cocaine into Canada, found hidden in an underwater chamber on a container ship in Nova Scotia in 2018.

Matthew Ross Lambert, 36, was sentenced Thursday in Halifax Provincial Court. Judge Elizabeth Buckle found him guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to traffic cocaine and attempt to trafficking the drugs. Buckle also stayed a charge for attempted possession for the purpose of trafficking.

Darcy Bailey, a 48-year-old Fort St. John man was also found guilty of those same crimes earlier this month, and will be sentenced later this year. The two other men co-accused with Lambert – Dangis Seinauskas and Nelson Alvarado-Calles of Ontario – were acquitted of all charges.

Lambert also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery against people involved in the drug trade in B.C. and Ontario. While planned, the robberies were never completed.

He has been in custody for the past 837 days – about two years, the longest time he’s served – said Buckle.

Prior to that, Lambert lived in Richmond with his wife and daughter, who is now three years old, and worked in construction with his brother and father.

His previous criminal record includes a fine for marijuana possession, as well as convictions for break and enter, however, Lambert had never received a penitentiary sentence. 

In her decision, Buckle said Lambert appeared to have no apparent motive other than profit, and would have been paid at least $500,000 for his role in the smuggling operation.

The case was “clearly a commercial wholesale operation,” said Buckle, with cocaine sourced from a foreign country. However, she said she was not convinced that Lambert was involved in obtaining the drugs, that he negotiated the contract or terms of delivery with the seller, or arranged the importation.

“The Crown did not prove more than that Mr. Lambert agreed to facilitate the importation of the cocaine into Canada by recovering the drugs and transporting them,” she said.

“However, in doing so, he became a part of a sophisticated international commercial enterprise.”

While Lambert wasn’t at the top of the hierarchy, nor simply a drug mule, he was crucial to the recovery team which was itself crucial to the whole operation, said Buckle.

In 2018, Lambert and one of his co-accused travelled to Montreal, where they planned to retrieve the cocaine from the Arica, a container ship. The cocaine was hidden in a sea chest – an underwater chamber in the vessel’s hull.

The plan to retrieve the cocaine from that hiding spot was “logistically challenging,” said Buckle, requiring specific knowledge of its location and the Arica’s itinerary.

It also required diving skills and special equipment, which Lambert researched and purchased. He also paid for flights, hotels and boat rentals.

The first attempt to retrieve the cocaine failed due to bad weather, said Buckle. Lambert and his co-accused then made their way to the Arica’s next destination – Halifax.

“They again tried to recover the cocaine there, but the authorities intervened and Mr. Lambert was arrested,” said Buckle.

According to a report by the Chronicle Herald, the Arica sailed to Montreal from Antwerp, Belgium, before making its way to Halifax to dock at the Halterm Container Terminal on the morning of June 9, 2018.

But when a video inspection of the Arica’s hull detected something in the sea chest, Canada Border Services Agency began to suspect the ship was being used to smuggle contraband, according to the Herald. Meanwhile, throughout the day, police saw individuals on a pontoon boat with diving equipment near the vessel.

In total, authorities seized approximately 157 kilograms of cocaine, with a “relatively high purity” of 79 per cent to 91 per cent, Buckle said at Thursday’s sentencing.

Its purchase price was around $1 million (if purchased in Colombia) and it had a resale value of between $6.9 million and $7.5 million (if sold at the kilogram level in Montreal).

Just four days after he was released on bail, Lambert and a second, unknown person planned to commit several robberies against people in the drug trade in Vancouver and Toronto. Lambert likely identified the targets and was putting together the teams, said Bailey.

Police, however, had obtained permission to intercept Lambert’s phone calls after his release. 

While Buckle weighed Lambert’s personal and criminal history in her decision, the conditions – including poor water quality, two weeks in “the hole,” frequent lockdowns and concerns about COVID-19 – he said faced while in pre-trial custody were also factored in to the final sentence.

Lambert was sentenced to 14 years for conspiracy to import cocaine, 10 years concurrent for conspiracy to traffic, 10 years concurrent for attempting to traffic the drugs and two years consecutive for conspiracy to commit robbery.

He also received credit for his time in pre-trial custody, bringing his total sentence down to 12 years, 204 days. Lambert is prohibited from possessing weapons, firearms, ammunition and explosive materials for life, and was ordered to provide a DNA sample. 

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