Guns not specifically referenced in texts amid lead-up to large Sarnia-area bridge bust, trial hears

Accused took wrong turn into Canada gun border bust trial

Two phones linked to Vivian Richards were seized the same day officials said they made one of the largest gun seizures at a Southwestern Ontario border in recent memory.

One of the phones was frequently messaging another number about dates, times and meeting locations in the days leading up to the Nov. 1 incident at the Blue Water Bridge near Sarnia, where 56 guns and 100 rounds of ammo were reportedly found in the trunk of a car during an inspection.

Clinton Campbell, a criminal investigator with the Canada Border Services Agency, confirmed the dates and times of the series of messages while testing Tuesday during the second day of Richards’ trial. The 48-year-old Florida man has pleaded not guilty to making false or deceptive statements under the Customs Act and possessing a firearm knowing that the serial number on it has been altered, defaced or removed under the Criminal Code.

The messages shared Tuesday included references to various vehicles, places to park, arrival times, a flight from Florida to Detroit, and addresses in New York. During cross-examination, however, defense lawyer Sarah Donohue asked Campbell, the case’s lead investigator, if there were any references to guns.

“Not specifically, no,” Campbell responded.

She followed up by describing the phone messages as vague.

“Yes, I agree with that,” Campbell tested.

The court previously heard Richards did not plan on coming into Canada shortly after noon that Monday and mistakenly drove across the bridge connecting Port Huron, Mich., and Point Edward while following GPS directions to New York. He was not permitted to turn around, however, and was sent to a secondary inspection area, per the bridge’s policy on wrong-turn GPS drivers.

Benjamin Ostner, a border officer stationed in the secondary inspection area the day, also tested Tuesday. He recalled Richards being co-operative during the search.

An officer he worked with that day previously tested Richards was fidgeting and appeared nervous.

Following the reported discovery of the guns, individually stashed in socks inside two cardboard boxes originally containing stretch wrap, Richards was arrested. Ostner took photos of the guns as they were unpacked one by one from the socks, although not until instructed to by a superintendent after the unpacking process had already started.

Vivian Richards (Facebook)
Vivian Richards (Facebook)

Richards, released around Christmas on $18,000 bail with GPS tracking and an order to stay in Sarnia or Point Edward until his trial, was originally expected to testify Tuesday afternoon. With both lawyers and the judge realizing the estimated two-day trial will need another day, his testimony was pushed to next month, when the proceedings are scheduled to resume.

Before the trial was adjourned, Donohue told the judge she plans on arguing the Crown does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute the case since the majority of the evidence heard is linked to activity that took place in the US The court previously heard testimony from two expert witnesses, a Detroit-based special agent with the US Department of Justice who specializes in the interstate commerce of firearms, and a University of Michigan Law School professor.

The trial will continue on Oct. 14.

Richards, from Oakland Park, Fla., was initially facing four Customs Act charges, including smuggling, and five Criminal Code charges, but seven of the nine charges have been withdrawn.

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