A Canadian man has been handed a mandatory life sentence for his role in a multimillion-dollar drug-trafficking operation that smuggled thousands of kilograms of marijuana into the United States, authorities said.
Michael (Mickey) Woods, 45, of Cornwall, Ont., who had been convicted following a six-day jury trial last summer, was sentenced in federal court in Syracuse, N.Y. despite objections that the punishment was cruel and unusual. The court also ordered a US$45-million judgment against him.
Woods, and co-accused Gaetan (Gates) Dinelle, 42, also of Cornwall, were found guilty of membership in three separate but related conspiracies, each involving a tonne or more of marijuana destined for the United States.
Evidence at trial showed that Woods, aided by Dinelle, ran a vast marijuana operation out of Cornwall from at least 2005 until 2008. In all, police accused the organization of distributing about 10 tonnes of high-grade marijuana valued worth US$47.3 million at the wholesale level.
Given the size of the operation, the conviction against Woods resulted in the automatic life sentence, punishment his lawyer decried as grossly excessive.
In pre-sentence filings, lawyer Albert Millus argued there was little direct evidence against his client, and that authorities overstated the case against him.
One of the key prosecution witnesses, who admitted to buying US$20 million of marijuana and selling it in the Boston area, was sentenced to 21 months of house arrest while another witness was jailed for 15 months, Millus said. The lawyer also noted there were no allegations of weapons or violence.
"The conspiracy involved only marijuana, not more devastating drugs such as heroin, crack cocaine or powder cocaine," Millus said in his brief.
In addition, Millus noted that the U.S. was "in the midst of a national movement involving the legalization of marijuana."
Dinelle, who was to be sentenced at the same time as Woods, is now scheduled to learn his fate next week. The father of a young girl has continued to deny any involvement in the drug operation and his lawyer has also asked the court for less than the mandatory life sentence requested by the prosecution.
Both men have indicated they will be looking to appeal.
According to the nine-count indictment filed in the case, Woods, who also went by the names Big Boss Man and Big Buddy, and his associates ran an intricate enterprise that involved managing and recruiting couriers, and buying or renting vehicles. He was convicted of four counts.
At trial, witnesses that included former members of the enterprise testified that he procured large quantities of marijuana from sources in Canada and, with Dinelle, arranged for the drug to be smuggled into the U.S. According to the indictment, the operation used boats, personal watercraft or snowmobiles pulling sleds to ferry the pot across the St. Lawrence River.
Authorities said the drugs were temporarily stored at various locations in northern New York state on the Akwasasne Mohawk reserve that straddles the border.
Couriers selected and supervised by Woods and Dinelle would drive the marijuana to buyers throughout the eastern United States, the prosecution said. The operation unravelled when police stopped some of the couriers and found them with large amounts of marijuana or cash.
According to officials, investigators seized about 400 kilograms of pot from the couriers and confiscated about US$2 million in currency they said were the proceeds from the illegal drug operation.
Woods and Dinelle were among 15 people extradited from Canada. The U.S. Attorney's Office called it the largest use of the extradition treaty between the two countries in a single case.
By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press