(THUNDER BAY, ON) – A 29-year-old Stephen Vopni appeared in a Judge’s court today to plead guilty to a couple of charges stemming from this year. His criminal defence lawyer Kevin Matthews is also present before the Judge and Crown Attorney A. Mason.
Vopni’s mother and father are also in the courtroom along with about 9 other people, myself included. Vopni enters the courtroom from the holding cell stairwell. He is in handcuffs and is placed into the prisoner’s box where he will appear from. Vopni pleads guilty to the following charges:
- Breaching bail conditions x2
On August 18th, 2018, the Thunder Bay Police Service were dispatched to a home regarding a dispute and received information that Vopni was acting aggressively and demanding a female take him to purchase drugs.
Around noon Vopni and the female victim had discussed making a stock market trade, and that he needed access to their registered retirement savings plan to make that transaction. Vopni then gained access to the victim’s bank account and had transferred $150 to his own bank account.
On August 17th after 11:00 pm, Vopni became upset with his victim and became confrontational by yelling at his victim and demanding that she get out of bed. Vopni’s victim told him that she would not be taking him to get drugs. At this point, Vopni said that he would have to take “drastic measures”.
A steak knife was grabbed by Vopni, and he started swinging the knife towards his victim while she was sitting on. His victim later stated to police that she believed he would have stabbed her. Vopni’s victim was eventually able to talk him down into putting the knife down, however, the argument dragged on into the hallway where Vopni struck his victim across the face with an open hand. Police were not able to see any red marks or bruising in the area.
It was at that point that his victim decided to take him to go buy drugs as Vopni stated he would strike her again if she did not do so. His victim said that this is not the first time that Vopni has become physical with her, however, she feels that his behaviour has been escalating. Further, she says that she is fearful for her and her husband’s safety, as she believes that Vopni is capable of hurting them.
As Vopni and his victim departed to purchase drugs, his victim whispered to her husband about where she and Vopni would be, and to call the police.
Both times Vopni breached his bail conditions, he was found to be highly intoxicated on drugs. One breach was a curfew breach, and the other was a using substances breach.
Vopni has an impaired driving conviction from 2017.
Defence lawyer Kevin Matthews says that he does not acknowledge the past violence, but does acknowledge the slap. He further says that Vopni was on some heavy medications and although he has a minimal recollection of the events, he does acknowledge them.
The defence and Crown are jointly recommending probation as a sentence for Vopni’s crime. He requires support from the community such as counselling due to significant drug addiction. His addiction did not start out from recreational use of drugs, but from a physical health issue that required hospital intervention which then spun into addiction. 18 months of probation is what is being suggested to the Judge.
His mother and father are present, and they are a very close-knit family. Vopni is very ashamed that his life has spiralled into this direction as when you talk to him when he is not on substances, he is a very different person. He does have an extremely close relationship with his parents, as they support him to all ends. Vopni’s parents are at the same time really struggling with his serious addiction issues.
Vopni describes his childhood upbringing as very amazing, and that both of his parents were highly involved with him. His father would coach him in various types of sports, whichever he wanted to participate in. The court hears that Vopni considers his parents a vital part of his life, and they are still deeply involved in his life. It is said that his parents are intertwined in his business, as Vopni is a businessman.
After high school, Vopni went to Lakehead University where he got an Honoured Bachelors of Commerce Degree and a major in finance and a minor in both political science and accounting. Once he got into the course at Lakehead University, he got involved in the stock market and has made substantial money through that since.
Shortly after graduating from university, Vopni became ill with a rarer medical condition which has lead him down the path where he is today. He was diagnosed in 2015 with Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. As he was battling this sickness, he was prescribed medication for nausea and another one for pain, one of those drugs being an opioid called hydromorphone.
After that, he went through a spiral of self-medicating which lead to many overdoses. Matthews says he is lucky to have survived. When he would run out of his prescription, he would purchase drugs on the street. His addiction to opiates has developed into an “extremely, extremely strong addiction” which continues today.
Vopni is no longer on any opiate prescriptions and has successfully weaned off the methadone program. As of right now, he is not on any form of opiates. He is looking into the suboxone program to assist in his sobriety.
Probation would help him to continue on the right path and would connect him with resources in the community where he can keep working on himself.
Defence is asking for a conditional discharge, this would mean that his charges would be wiped from his criminal record. The Crown is seeking a suspended sentence, which would leave him with a criminal record.
The Judge asks defence lawyer Matthews what had happened August 18th and November 20th, where Vopni had a breach between those dates. Matthews says that he was released after his breach in October, and his mother drove him to an Indigenous residential treatment centre. After he completed the program, he was returned to Thunder Bay and fell back into the same patterns and was breached shortly after his return.
The Judge tells the court that a conditional discharge would be “problematic” due to Vopni having a previous criminal record, the impaired driving charge. Matthews understands that and presses on.
Probation conditions recommended are:
- Keep the peace and be of good behaviour towards his parents
- Follow your treatment programs and counselling
- Get addiction and mental health counselling and programming
- $150 restitution to his mother
- No weapons
- Abstain absolutely from drugs banned under the controlled drugs and substances act, as well as other intoxicating substances except with a medical prescription
- Be completely sober in your parent’s residence unless medically prescribed
- Attend and actively participate in all counselling and programming
The Crown is requesting that Vopni’s time spent in jail is marked as a custodial sentence for his crimes, followed by probation. The defence was looking for just probation without any of his time spent in jail marked as a custodial sentence. What this means is, if the Crown gets his time served in jail put on his criminal record as a custodial sentence for this crime, if there is a “next time” that Vopni gets charged for a similar offence, his sentence would be longer than this one. If the defence gets what they are asking for, which is just a probationary order with no time attributed to this sentencing, then if there is a “next time” where Vopni is charged and convicted of a similar offence, then the Judge could use his previous sentence as a baseline of how to decide his future sentence. Judges tend to increase sentences each time a similar conviction is made.
The Crown is on board with the 18-months of probation recommendation, which will enable Vopni to have a meaningful connection with the resources they have. It is the hope that Vopni utilizes the programming etc to help turn his life around.
Vopni was engaged in “extremely manipulative behaviour” that day, the Crown states. Vopni’s behaviour caused his victim to have concern.
The Crown is also asked for a DNA order as Vopni did wave a knife at his victim and struck her in the face.
Vopni’s breaches were almost immediately upon his release each time. Which is also aggravating.
DEFENCE SUBMISSIONS PART 2
Defence lawyer Kevin Matthews continues and states that Vopni is a “self-made businessman” that owns a number of rental properties around Thunder Bay. Vopni has also done “quite well” in the stock market and has done “great things” but has at least 1 demon and some medical issues that he needs to start addressing.
Vopni starts his speech to the Judge by saying that he needs continuing treatment and that the treatment he did receive was great. He starts listing off a number of programs that help with drug addictions that he could seek out upon his release.
He tells the court that he has given his “power of attorney of finance” to his mother, so he has no control over his money. His mother is collecting the rent from his landlords so he states he is not able to purchase drugs as he has no money. This is limiting his ability to obtain money.
Vopni states he wants to continue to keep improving himself. He notes that he fell into this addiction through a medical condition, and although Vopni says that is no excuse, he is going to work on improvement.
He is on the waiting list for another rehabilitation centre and he is excited to continue working on battling his drug addiction. Vopni says he has a really good “circle” and that his mother taught him it’s about who you surround yourself with.
The Judge states that “this is a really tragic situation” and it’s one that Her Honour has seen many times in the courtroom. The Judge says that its often that people that have sooo much to offer to the community that fall prey to addiction at no fault of their own.
In this case, the aggravating circumstance is, of course, assaulting the victim and pulling a knife on her to get you some money, the Judge said. One of the facts is that Vopni held his victim hostage to get some money. He also wielded a knife at his victim, how close that knife got is unknown, but it is very aggravating, says Her Honour.
A conditional discharge will not be granted today by Her Honour, as it requires a person to not have a criminal record.
Her Honour won’t attribute Vopni’s time in custody to the sentencing, meaning on his criminal record it will show that he was only sentenced to probation, despite having spent about 71 real days in jail. This works in Vopni’s favour if he were to be convicted of a similar charge in the future.
The Judge also states that the level of addiction is alarming, and the amount of harm it is causing. Her Honour talks about how much chaos an addiction has on the persons family life, and says that the focus every day becomes trying to get that person sober. She tells Vopni that all the ideas he has to promote a sober living lifestyle are all very good and then encourages him to continue down that path.
Her Honour tells Vopni that it’s a good thing that he has switched his medications and is aiming for a sober life. She tells him that during his road to recovery, he has slipped. The Judge continues to tell him that “slipping” is a part of recovery, and that he should continue down the path of improvement.
The Judge grants the joint submission, but does not attribute Vopni’s time spent in jail to the sentence, and does not grant the conditional sentence. Vopni is sentenced to a suspended sentence of 18-months. If Vopni breaches his conditions during this 18-months, he may end up in front of a Judge again and could be re-sentenced on these matters.
Vopni exits the prisoner’s box, has his handcuffs taken off, and sits in the body of the court, waiting for his legal counsel to speak with him.
Anyone with a better photo of Vopni is asked to email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Citizen journalist born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I like pizza and reporting on concerning events that are in my home region, or that impact it. You can read more by clicking here.