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Mercer Island man gets 5 years for drug smuggling

A 28-year-old Mercer Island man was sentenced to five years in federal prison last week for smuggling drugs across the Peace Arch border in Blaine, Canada. He was entering the United States.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Island resident James DeShawn Riggins was caught last April with 60 pounds of the hallucinogen BZP — which is similar to Ecstacy. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones said the drugs, which resemble colorful children’s vitamins in cartoon characters such as Transformers, the Simpsons and the Flinstones, are targeted at youngsters.

Riggins was caught when Blaine border officials sensed suspicious activity and searched his 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche. The officials discovered that, by punching in a secret code with the car’s seat controls, they were able to open up a secret compartment under the bed of his truck. There they found a stash of bags containing more than 100,000 tablets of the drug.

Records showed that Riggins had traveled across the border in the same Chevrolet truck 22 times in the first four months of 2009, according to court documents. According to the Canadian press, he was working as a drug smuggler for British Columbia resident Ashikh Kumar, who is currently charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, unauthorized use of a firearm, possession of a prohibited weapon and careless use of a firearm.

At his sentencing, Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Diggs argued that Riggens deserved a significant sentence, as he was not an “unknowing drug mule.

“[Riggens] was driving his own vehicle that was purpose-built to carry contraband and currency back and forth across the international border. The secret compartment in the defendant’s vehicle was sophisticated and required a substantial amount of time and money to install. The defendant’s willingness to transform his own vehicle into a high-tech drug smuggling machine evidences his level of involvement,” Diggs wrote in his sentencing memo.

In his defense, Riggens stated that his smuggling scheme was “not worth it.”

“I had all the money, all the women, first class airline flights, but I still wasn’t happy,” the Islander said.

BZP has become a popular street drug in the last few years. In 2009, Immigration and Customs enforcement agents intercepted a half-million tablets in Whatcom County, mostly at the border.

Every year, several hundred Americans are arrested in Canada on drug charges. Fewer are arrested for smuggling drugs. It isa illegal to transport any drug across the border, whether “hard” drugs like Cocaine or “soft” drugs such as marijuana. Penalties range from citations and fines to jail time. Canada and the United States are committed to the fight against illicit drugs and their two-way movement across our shared border. Since the last United States-Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment in 2001, the two countries have significantly enhanced bilateral cooperation on border security issues, including drug trafficking. The principle illicit substances smuggled across our shared border are marijuana, cocaine, precursor chemicals and steroids. Marijuana is the most widely produced, trafficked and consumed illicit drug in both Canada and the United States. Other illicit substances such as heroin, Ecstasy, methamphetamine and hashish also pose a threat to the United States and Canada, but levels of cross-border trafficking are proportionately low.

For more information, go to Canada Public Safety at: www.publicsafety.gc.ca.

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