10/17/2014 02:47 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST

Organized crime sting, Operation J-Tornado, lands first conviction

Police and prosecutors have obtained their first conviction as a result of Operation J-Tornado, a large drug operation targeting organized crime, which saw 29 people arrested in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec.

Clifford Hughes, 34, pleaded guilty in Saint John provincial court on Friday to possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking, and breach of an undertaking.

He was sentenced to three years in prison, based on a joint recommendation by the Crown and defence.

Hughes was in possession of a Blackberry used to send encrypted messages between himself and another man, the courtroom heard.

Police could not crack the messages, but using an informant were able to put a bugged phone in the mix and figured out what happened.

In total, Hughes moved four ounces of cocaine and 16 pounds of marijuana, said Crown prosecutor Nicole Poirier.

Hughes "was not one of the main targets of [the] initial operation," she said, describing a three-year sentence as being at the end of the low scale.

Defence lawyer David Lutz said: "If we had to give him a title, it would be drug addict, not drug dealer."

Judge Henrik Tonning urged Hughes to take advantage of the drug programs available through the federal system and to make good decisions.

"The reality is you can get this stuff in there, just like you can get it in the street, and some people come out worse than when they went in," Tonning said.

After his arrest, Hughes was caught doing intravenous drugs in the Parkway Mall parking lot, resulting in the breach of an undertaking charge.

Drug trafficking networks disrupted

Saint John was at the centre of three "major" drug trafficking networks RCMP say were disrupted by the three-year joint-forces investigation and several raids at homes and businesses across southern New Brunswick on Sept. 10.

Police seized large quantities of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, at least seven firearms, drug paraphernalia and cash. Twenty-nine people were arrested.

Arrests were also made in Laval, Que., and Halifax.

RCMP have alleged large quantities of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, were supplied to two crime groups in Saint John via routes from Montreal and Halifax, and from another crime group in Moncton.

The drugs were then redistributed to dealers in Saint John and other New Brunswick communities, including Fredericton, Oromocto, Sussex, St. George, and Grand Manan, to be sold on the street.

The accused face a variety of drug-related charges, including possession for the purpose of trafficking, trafficking, and conspiring to possess and traffic.

Some of the accused are also facing charges related to participation in the activities of a criminal organization, firearms offences, and proceeds of crime offences.