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October 22, 2013

Canadian claims he didn't know bag held $1 million of cocaine

SALEM, Mass. — A Canadian man admitted the arrangement was "shady" but claims he had no idea a large black bag he was delivering contained 11 kilograms - 25 pounds - of cocaine with a street value of $1.1 million.

Jason Grilli testified in Salem Superior Court on Monday that he was being paid $2,500 to pick up a bag at a hotel in Peabody, a Boston suburb, and deliver it to a truck driver in Boston who would bring it back to Canada. He is on trail on charges of conspiracy and cocaine trafficking of more than 200 grams.

Grilli, 40, who lives outside Montreal, testified he thought the bag contained money that a friend named "Benny" wanted to smuggle into Canada without declaring it. Police confronted him with the bag - with the drugs inside - in December 2011.

Attorney Michael Farrell conceded to jurors that Grilli is guilty of conspiracy to commit an unlawful act. But he argued there’s no proof that Grilli knew what was in the bag he was carrying to a rented minivan in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn in Peabody.

Farrell repeatedly called Grilli a “two-bit gofer," but prosecutor Gregory Friedholm said the story makes no sense.

Why would organized crime kingpins entrust $1 million to a man claiming to be an unemployed waiter? he asked. Why did Grilli use a fake name found in text messages exchanged among leaders of a drug organization?

“I was desperate. I needed the money,” Grilli testified, adding that he was doing what his friend told him to do.

In June, Gerardo Flores, a former staff sergeant in the Arizona National Guard, was sentenced to three years after admitting to driving from Texas to Peabody to deliver money for the deal. In July, Valentine Munoz-Torres, a Mexican citizen, pleaded guilty to a trafficking charge and received a 12-year sentence.

Julie Manganis writes for The Salem, Mass., News

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