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By David Burke Reporter Pembertonian, two others face preliminary hearing today in Seattle
email@example.com Three British Columbians, including one from Pemberton and one from Squamish, are being detained by authorities in the United States for allegedly smuggling marijuana by helicopter into Washington State. Shane Menzel from Pemberton, Jake Humphrey from Squamish and Paul McCluskey from Coquitlam appeared before a U.S. magistrate in Seattle last Thursday (Sept. 15) and were ordered detained until a preliminary hearing scheduled today (Sept. 22). An affidavit sworn by Jesse Miller, a Special Agent with the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly known as the U.S. Customs Service) alleges that the three were arrested on Wednesday, Sept. 7, in a remote part of Skagit County, near the town of Darrington. Miller states that tree-clearing activity was noted off Forest Service Road 28. Two men were seen cutting downed trees t hat had toppled during a recent storm and were blocking the road. Miller stated that law-enforcement personnel went to the road and saw a clear-cut area up the mountain from where the men were working. The U.S. Forest Service had not approved logging in the area, he wrote. The next day, authorities allege, McCluskey and Humphrey each drove a car toward the area of the suspected landing zone. ?At approximately 9:30 a.m., agents watched as the men drove up the road leading to the helicopter-landing zone,? Miller wrote. ?McCluskey drove to the downed trees at the end of the road, but Humphrey stopped his car at a location down the hill. ?From Humphrey?s vantage point, he would be able to see approaching cars or people. There was no one else in the area except for law enforcement and these two men.? At 10:40 a.m., agents saw a Robinson R-22 helicopter fly southbound and land, Miller wrote. The pilot, later identified as Menzel, emerged. McCluskey then removed two large hockey bags from the pa ssenger side of the helicopter, then removed several individual vacuum-sealed bags ? allegedly containing marijuana ? from side compartments on the helicopter skids, Miller stated. The two were arrested, and Humphrey was arrested a short time later. According to Miller, a total of 123 pounds of marijuana was seized. In his affidavit, Miller said that Menzel later admitted having made three previous trips, and that each time he was met by McCluskey. He admitted he was paid $150 per pound to smuggle the marijuana in to the United States, Miller alleged. Menzel, 29, underwent helicopter flight training in the fall of 2004 at Coast Helicopter School in Sidney, B.C., an official with the school told The Question. He received his certification to fly both Robinson R-22s and Bell 206s, the official said. A member of Menzel?s family, reached last Friday, declined comment on the matter. According to court documents filed by Seattle lawyer Richard J. Troberman on Menzel?s behalf, several members of t he Menzel family were to have been present in court for the detention hearing last Thursday. Troberman wrote that in addition to his helicopter flight training, Menzel has a licence to fly fixed-wing aircraft. A biography of Humphrey which is part of the court record states that he is involved in a long-term relationship and that the couple has a 14-month-old daughter and owns a home in Squamish. He works in the film industry in Vancouver, the biography said. Emily Langlie, public affairs officer with the U.S. Attorney?s office in Seattle, said that if the men are convicted, the maximum penalty for smuggling less than 100 kilograms of marijuana into the country is five years in prison. However, if authorities can prove the allegation that multiple trips were made, and that more than 100 kg was smuggled, the penalty could be up to 10 years, she said. Langlie said that in such cases, authorities have 20 days from the date of the arrest to bring the defendants in for a preliminary hearing or g et a criminal indictment from a U.S. federal grand jury. ?Nine times out of 10, a preliminary hearing isn?t held, because in the interim, people are indicted by the grand jury. Someone has to be indicted by a grand jury before the case goes to trial,? she said.