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Friday, July 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:02 A.M.
Marijuana smuggling case first local use of Patriot Act provision
By Maureen O'Hagan Seattle Times staff reporter
The U.S. attorney in Seattle has used a Patriot Act provision to charge 15 people with smuggling marijuana money out of this country as part of a multimillion-dollar drug operation based in Canada.
It is the first time the provision has been used in a major case in this district, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg. The indictments say an undercover agent spent nearly a year working with the alleged smugglers, accused of helping to deliver $3.4 million illegally into Canada in 2003. The money came from the sale of marijuana in the states, Greenberg said.
"From our perspective, the significance is the amount of money and the length of time this went on," Greenberg said. The suspects live in Washington and Canada and made their first appearance in U.S. District Court yesterday.
According to the indictments, an undercover agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement infiltrated the organization, often acting as a middle-man and taking the money from the Washington residents into British Columbia.
The 15 each were charged under the Patriot Act with one count of bulk-cash smuggling. Nine others were charged earlier with international money laundering and marijuana trafficking under a separate law.
It has long been illegal to take more than $10,000 out of the country without reporting it. But the Patriot Act strengthened that law and "took it out of just being a reporting violation to be a smuggling, trafficking type of offense," Greenberg said. The crime carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and the forfeiture of the illegally transported money.
Although the Patriot Act was passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a way to thwart terrorism, there is no indication these defendants are connected to terrorism, Greenberg said.
"They're trying to get money from here to support crime somewhere else, so it's a way to crack down on that," he said.