North Vancouver couple accused of being fentanyl ‘kingpins’

WATCH: Fentanyl has been blamed in the deaths of several recreational drug users in recent weeks. Rumina Daya takes a look at where the dangerous drugs are coming from and what police are doing about the problem.

Cash, weapons, and more than 50,000 fentanyl pills were seized earlier this year after two major Vancouver police stings. Twenty people were arrested, including a North Vancouver couple–Walter James McCormick and Karen Marie Armitstead–who police say are major players in the distribution of fentanyl. The couple has just pleaded not guilty in provincial court to about 30 drug-related charges.

Defence lawyer Jordan Allingham says they have “good reputations in the community and their names have been dragged through the mud and associated with being kingpins.”

He goes on to say they “look forward to challenging these allegations in court.”

Police and public health officials say they are dealing with a growing crisis that’s now hitting the mainstream with more than 50 fentanyl-related deaths across B.C. this year alone. There have been four deaths in recent weeks, including a teenager and two professional parents, who apparently had no idea they were ingesting the powerful opioid.

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“Keep in mind that our clients were arrested six months ago and apparently have abided by the terms of their bail,” said defence lawyer Lawrence Myers. “These deaths occurred … after their arrest and release. Presumably they have no connection whatsoever.”

WATCH: What you need to know about Fentanyl

But the government believes it can have an effect by going after the assets of the suspects in civil court, regardless if they’re found guilty or not in criminal proceedings.

The B.C. Civil Forfeiture Office is trying to seize $2 million in properties and cash belonging to McCormick and Armitstead, his common-law wife. Their lawyers claim they have legitimate jobs that helped them pay for their possessions. McCormick works as a welder and Armitstead is a nurse.

“Simply charging one group of people is not necessarily going to eliminate the problem,” said Allingham. “The city has a bigger problem beyond people who are charged and accused of these crimes.”

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The couple’s trial is expected to last five weeks. A date will be set later this month.

None of the criminal charges or allegations filed in the civil suit have been proven in court.

-With files from Rumina Daya

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