Drug and firearm conspiracy charges dismissed after judge rules evidence ‘entirely circumstantial’

Superior Court Justice Robert F. Goldstein dismissed all charges against Nicholas Ortega in his directed verdict on July 19.

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An Ottawa man arrested in an alleged firearms- and drug-trafficking conspiracy in Toronto in 2019 had all his charges dismissed last month after a judge found the Crown’s case was “entirely circumstantial.”


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Nicholas Ortega, 44, initially faced more than 30 charges after Toronto police arrested him in February 2019 as part of a sting operation investigating two alleged high-level cocaine dealers: Vincent Yun-Hao Huang, 36, and Daniel Kam-Wah Siu, 35.

Both were arrested on Canada-wide warrants and await trial on a number of drug and weapons offences.

Police at the time alleged both Huang and Siu had ties to organized crime, and the police operation, dubbed Project Moses, netted kilogram bags of fentanyl and cocaine along with heroin, an assault rifle, six handguns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in a series of raids on Feb. 14, 2019.

Police surveillance teams had been watching for more than a year before they raided two homes and a pair of storage lockers on Victoria Park Road in Scarborough: one locker rented under Huang’s name and the other under Siu’s, according to business records filed in court.


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Police also searched two cars, where they found more drugs and a loaded handgun stashed in secret “traps” inside the vehicle, which police said was registered to Huang.

Federal and provincial Crown attorneys prosecuted the case against Ortega, alleging that he “conspired with Mr. Huang and others to traffic heroin and fentanyl” and that Ortega had “joint possession” of the guns and drugs with both Huang and Siu.

Superior Court Justice Robert F. Goldstein disagreed, however, and dismissed all charges against Ortega in his directed verdict on July 19.

Ortega’s name didn’t appear in any of the business records related to the storage lockers, the judge wrote in his ruling, and there was “no evidence Mr. Ortega ever possessed a key, code, or any independent means of entering” the storage facility or either of the two lockers inside.


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Police surveillance teams were already camped out and watching Huang when Ortega took the train from Ottawa in November 2018 and met Huang in the parking lot of the Guildwood GO train station.

They met briefly, according to the judge’s summary of evidence, before Ortega “walked away carrying something that looked like a fast food container.”

Police had also observed Ortega driving the Hyundai Sonata registered to Huang in February 2018, and, in the raids a year later, police would find three secret compartments in the car containing one kilogram of fentanyl, half a kilo of cocaine and a 9mm handgun with an illegal overcapacity magazine.

Ortega’s defence lawyer, Michael Johnston, argued there was no evidence his client had any knowledge or control of the guns or drugs in either the Sonata or the storage facility and no evidence that Ortega conspired with anyone about anything.


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Johnston said this week the judge made the correct ruling, but it came after more than two years of “gruelling” custody.

“Mr. Ortega was denied bail by two levels of court,” Johnston said Thursday. “After 29 gruelling months in custody, most of which was during a pandemic, the Superior Court of Justice correctly ruled that there was no evidence upon which a properly instructed jury, acting reasonably, could convict on any of the counts in the indictment.”

Johnston asked the judge to return a directed verdict, where the judge “must determine whether the evidence is reasonably capable of supporting the inferences that the Crown asks the jury to draw,” Goldstein wrote in his ruling.

Crown prosecutors argued that Ortega and Huang “clearly knew each other” from the exchange at Guildwood Station. Prosecutors alleged Huang was “clearly an active drug dealer at a high level (and) Mr. Ortega was clearly associated with him.”


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The Crown argued Ortega was also “clearly associated” with the locations where police would later seize the drugs and guns — the storage locker and the Sonata.

According to a summary of the Crown’s argument, “A jury would be entitled to find that it cannot be a mere coincidence that Mr. Ortega would be the only other person to attend the storage lockers and also be the person driving Mr. Huang’s Sonata — a Sonata with drugs and a gun secreted in it.”

The Crown’s case against Ortega was “entirely circumstantial,” the judge wrote.

“The defence does not seriously contest that there was ‘something afoot in Scarborough in 2018 and 2019,” Goldstein wrote. “There is, he concedes, evidence of a conspiracy between Huang and Siu. There is, however, no evidence of involvement by Mr. Ortega. There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Ortega knew about any guns or drugs in either the storage locker or the Sonata.”

In order for Ortega to be a party to the offences, Goldstein wrote, “there would have to be some evidence that (he) even knew about them.”





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