A 58-year-old Ndilo woman caught with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine and other drugs during a 2016 traffic stop was sentenced to three years behind bars Thursday.
Mary Anne Lafferty stared at the ceiling of a Yellowknife courtroom as Justice Shannon Smallwood read the decision, sentencing her for four convictions of possessing drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
“I made a mistake and I’m sorry,” a sniffling and teary-eyed Lafferty said, standing to address the court before being sentenced.
Mary Anne and her 79-year-old mother, Vitaline Lafferty, were stopped by RCMP near Fort Providence on March 18, 2016 as part of a high-level drug trafficking investigation dubbed Project Green Manalishi. By monitoring the communications of a suspected drug network, Mounties learned a currier would be delivering Yellowknife-destined drugs to a blue SUV near the NWT/Alberta border.
A police search of Vitaline Lafferty’s blue SUV yielded 1.7 kilograms of cocaine, 85 grams of MDMA, 5.8 kilograms of marijuana and 11 bottles of liquid codeine.
A Yellowknife jury convicted Mary Anne Lafferty of eight counts of drug trafficking and possession charges in September.
Vitaline, who was driving when the pair were stopped, faced the same charges as her daughter, but she was acquitted on all counts by the jury.
“I made a mistake by not standing up for myself,” continued Lafferty, reading from pages of prepared notes.
At trial, Mary Anne rejected the Crown’s position that she knew full-well she was on her way to pick up drugs when she left Ndilo, testifying she thought she was partaking in a legitimate pickup for her daughter’s employer, Jerrie’s Delivery Service.
At the last minute, Lafferty testified, her daughter, Katrina Stiopu, asked her make the trip on her behalf.
Stiopu is currently serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence after being convicted of stashing drugs for network-leader Tobb Dube. Dube, who used Jerrie’s Delivery service to move drugs in Yellowknife, received a nine-year prison sentence last year.
“I didn’t understand that when I said “yes” to my daughter … what that “yes,” would result in,”said Lafferty, holding back tears.
In an emotional plea, Lafferty implored Smallwood to grant her house arrest instead of custody, so that she could continue to take care of her grandchildren, who she called, “my heart, my life, my whole being.” Faced with incarceration, she said she won’t be able to wake up and hear “grandma.”
Lafferty recounted a traumatic five-year experience at a residential school – beginning at the age of seven – and detailed decades of domestic abuse against herself and her children at the hands of multiple partners. Fighting back tears, Lafferty revisited memories that still haunt her: being beaten “black and blue,” and hiding from violence for fear of her life.
“All my life I’ve let people abuse me,” Lafferty said, adding she thought it “part of life.”
“I know it is not now,” she said.
Lafferty told the court she ran away at the age of 15, and has struggled with mental health and addictions issues for years.
Returning to her time in the residential school system, Lafferty remembered being hit by a nun after asking for help.
“I learned to be quiet,” said Lafferty. “I’m one of the lucky ones – I’m still alive. I’m a survivor,” she added, alluding to the residential school system’s long lasting negative impact on the lives of many.
The court also heard about Lafferty’s active involvement the communities of Ndilo and Dettah. Lafferty told the court she was employed by the GNWT in the 1990s, and has assumed roles within the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
Handing down her decision Thursday, Smallwood said she was satisfied Lafferty knew she was being sent from Ndilo to pick up drugs, although she may not have known the exact quantity or kind of drugs.
With several wiretapped phone calls featuring Lafferty and Dube being presented to the court, Smallwood said Lafferty was in a position to ask more questions if she wanted to know the answers.
Smallwood considered Lafferty’s Gladue factors – an Indigenous offenders upbringing and circumstances in coming to her decision, including the “cycle of abuse” she endured from as a child into adulthood. Smallwood cited mistreatment from nuns, which when reported, only made Lafferty’s situation worse.
Unfortunately, Smallwood said, “she learned to deal with abuse and not seek assistance.”
Despite these considerations, Smallwood stressed the harm the “significant” amount of drugs destined to Yellowknife and the territory could have caused had they had made their way to the streets of Yellowknife or communities throughout NWT.
The fact Mary Anne’s daughter exposed her to the drug trade is “reprehensible,” Smallwood said.
“It’s a high price she’ll have to pay for doing anyone a favour, particularly her daughter,” she added.
Lafferty shared long embraces with half a dozen family members and supporters in court as an RCMP officer waiting to take her into custody.
At one point, Lafferty broke down, pointing at a male family member.
“You set me up you f—king bastard,” she said.
“I had nothing do with it,” replied the man. “Don’t sell dope then,” he added before leaving NWT Supreme Court.
Lafferty must submit a sample of her DNA and is barred from possessing firearms for 10 years after her release.
Outside of the Yellowknife courthouse, Crown attorney Duane Praught – the lead prosecutor for Project Green Manalishi files, told reporters Lafferty’s sentencing is the latest in a line of “highly successful” prosecutions.
“It’s a reflection of the quality of work of the RCMP, and the quality of work of our office as well,” said Praught.
Praught said there are still two offenders charged following Project Green Manalishi waiting to be sentenced. There is an arrest warrant out for a third individual yet to be sentenced.
Nearly 30 suspects were arrested in the sweeping Federal Investigations Unit-led probe.
Praught expects the remaining offenders will be sentenced fore the holidays.