Alberta man gets 3-year sentence for his role in Yellowknife drug ring

A man described in court documents as a “trusted” and “significant” player in a high-level N.W.T. drug trafficking network was sentenced to three years imprisonment on Feb. 16.

Devon Herback, of Grande Prairie, Alta., was charged in April 2016 with three offences related to drug possession and trafficking for his role in the “dial-a-dope” operation that peddled powdered cocaine, crack cocaine and other drugs in Yellowknife and other communities in the South Slave region of the N.W.T.

According to court documents, the organization’s phones operated 24 hours per day, every day.

“Several ounces of cocaine a day were sold through the dial-a-dope operation,” states court documents.

Herback, 36 at the time of sentencing, was one of the primary operators of those phones, working under the direction of Norman Hache.

Hache was sentenced last August to five years for his role in the drug network. He was swept up in an 11-month RCMP drug investigation dubbed “Project Green Manalishi.” As part of that larger operation, Police also seized 1,200 fentanyl pills, two kilograms of cocaine, seven kilograms of marijuana, 11 litres of liquid codeine, $75,000 in cash and several guns.

Followed to Fort Resolution

Herback was first arrested in a March 2016 sting after RCMP followed him on a cocaine delivery in Fort Resolution.

RCMP tracked Herback’s vehicle en route to the community, and arrested him when he arrived at his destination. Police found 362.5 grams of cocaine “lying on the ground next to the vehicle,” $5,980 in cash, a knife, cellphone and a digital scale.

RCMP released Herback after the arrest “to maintain the integrity of the investigation,” according to court documents. He then resumed working for the dial-a-dope operation. But on April 16, 2016, Herback turned himself to police, two days after RCMP made a number of arrests in relation to the Project Green Manalishi investigation. At the time, Herback was named in an arrest warrant.

On Oct. 30, 2017, Herback pleaded guilty to trafficking cocaine, one of the three charges he faced.

A ‘significant’ amount of cocaine

During sentencing, N.W.T. Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood acknowledged that Herback, a father of three, began trafficking drugs as a consequence of falling into addiction himself.

“To his credit, since his arrest, Mr. Herback has managed to maintain his sobriety,” stated Smallwood in the sentencing document.

The judge also recognized Herback’s guilty plea as a mitigating factor in his sentence, but said Herback wasn’t a simple “street-level” dealer.

“He operated a dial-a-dope phone, which was part of an operation which sold up to eight to nine ounces of cocaine a day. This is a significant amount of cocaine to move in the city of Yellowknife in terms of the quantity and value,” Smallwood stated.

“While Mr. Herback was not the head of this drug trafficking group … he was trusted and played a significant part in this organization.”

Smallwood referenced an intercepted phone conversation Herback had with his boss, Norman Hache, and another leader of the organization, as evidence Herback was fully cognizant of the risks he was taking.

“I fully accept I know what I do and I know the … consequences,” Herback said.

“I will do the dirt work and the … work that people don’t want to do, and it’s because it just needed to be done, right?”

Smallwood’s three-year sentence was pared down to 33 months for time he spent in custody during court proceedings.

The two other charges he was facing — conspiracy to traffic and possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine and fentanyl, and conspiracy to traffic and possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine — were stayed at the sentencing hearing.

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