08/06/2015 03:00 EDT | Updated 08/06/2016 05:59 EDT

Fentanyl overdoses: Accused traffickers appear in Vancouver court

A North Vancouver couple have pleaded not guilty to multiple charges related to the distribution of fentanyl.

Walter James McCormick and his common law spouse Karen Marie Armitstead, face multiple counts related to Project Tainted, a police operation carried out in response to a rash of overdoses in October 2014.

Neither attended the arraignment hearing in Vancouver provincial court Thursday.

Interest in the case is high, as it coincides with growing alarm over a recent spike in fentanyl-related deaths across Metro Vancouver.

A search warrant for the couple's North Vancouver home is sealed, but details of the investigation are contained in B.C. Supreme Court documents filed in an attempt to seize their assets through civil forfeiture.

According to a notice of civil claim: "Mr. McCormick is a high level drug trafficker with access to large quantities of fentanyl pills and was ... the supplier of fentanyl as well as other illegal drugs to mid-level drug traffickers."

The claim goes on to allege those drugs were then supplied "to a large sophisticated drug trafficking network comprised of multiple drug trafficking lines and numerous 'employees."

Home raided in February

"They're represented by counsel and are eager to have their day in court to challenge these allegations," McCormick's lawyer Jordan Allingham, told CBC News Thursday.

"[Armitstead has] been a nurse for 20 years," he said. "She's done nothing but help individuals in the community. To have her name thrown in the media tied to this is obviously very stressful."

According to their responses to the civil forfeiture claim, McCormick is an ironworker and Armitstead is a registered nurse earning $90,000 a year at Lions Gate Hospital.

McCormick, 50, faces 22 criminal counts, including trafficking in fentanyl. 

Armitstead faces 12 counts, including possession of fentanyl for the purpose of trafficking. Both are also charged with possession of weapons.

Their home, located in a family friendly North Vancouver neighbourhood, was raided in February.

"There were illegal drugs concealed in the crawl space. There was a significant quantity of illegal drugs hidden in the main floor storage room as well as in the bedroom along with a significant amount of cash," reads the notice of claim.

"There were 'score sheets' [used to record illegal drug transactions] in the waste paper bin in the second floor bathroom."

The case was put over to Aug. 20, when a pre-trial conference will take place.