Drug lab guilty plea sticks

The man who pleaded guilty a year ago to producing a fentanyl analogue at a West Kelowna business will remain guilty, after a judge dismissed his application to have his plea reversed Wednesday.

Police arrested Leslie McCulloch and his girlfriend Rebekka White in March 2016, the culmination of several months of investigation, and found evidence of a large-scale counterfeit OxyContin manufacturing plant.

While McCulloch was initially denied bail, he pleaded guilty to production of a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking in February 2017, and was granted bail to “get his affairs in order” prior to sentencing.

Before pleading guilty, the Crown informed McCulloch's lawyer they would be seeking a 13-year sentence for McCulloch and a 10-year sentence for White, but McCulloch's lawyer negotiated with Crown for a staying of White's charges if McCulloch pleaded guilty.

After obtaining new counsel in May 2017 and learning the results of an analysis on the drugs seized that showed the fentanyl analogue only made up a small percentage of the substance, McCulloch applied to change his guilty plea to not guilty, and proceed with a trial.

On Wednesday, Justice Cathaline Heinrichs dismissed the application, saying that McCulloch's February 2017 guilty plea was “informed, unequivocal and voluntary” and he was an “active participant” in the process.

“Mr. McCulloch has a criminal record with six entries dating back to 1999, he has some familiarity with the criminal justice system,” Justice Heinrichs said Wednesday.

“I have no evidence before me to demonstrate that a miscarriage of justice would result if the guilty plea stands.”

Justice Heinrichs pointed out that McCulloch never denied the charges during his presentence report interview last year, but “incorrectly reported to the author of the presentence report that Crown proposed to analyze the contents in exchange for a guilty plea.”

“Regardless, the motivation of the accused for entering a guilty plea is irrelevant.”

Justice Heinrichs also noted the purity of the drugs, while lower than originally thought, has no bearing on McCulloch's guilt, but is relevant to the issue of sentencing.

McCulloch's defence and Crown prosecutor Clarke Burnett will meet next week to schedule a sentencing date.

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