Abbotsford man sentenced in U.S. for $7 million worth of cocaine

An Abbotsford man was sentenced Friday in Seattle to a 10-year federal prison sentence for possessing $7 million worth of cocaine that was intended to be smuggled from Washington State into Canada.

Curtis McLay previously pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. A charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine was dismissed.

He and a woman, Leah Norton, were arrested on Dec. 6, 2010 outside of a Bellingham restaurant, where investigators searched a truck driven by McLay.

Found inside the vehicle were 184 kilogram-sized bricks of cocaine, camouflage face paint, knives, pepper spray, walkie-talkies, global positioning systems and camouflage clothing.

The cocaine seizure was considered to be one of the largest made by federal agents patrolling the U.S.-Canada border in the western district of Washington.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had found two abandoned jet skis in Hale Passage, an area known for the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, on the day before and the day of the arrests. One of them had been purchased by McLay two weeks earlier.

According to sentencing documents, Norton told investigators that McLay and another person had entered the U.S. at night on two jet skis with intentions to pick up the cocaine – which had been transported from California – at a cottage on Lummi Island.

Their plan was to transport the drugs back to Canada.

However, Norton said the plan was abandoned when one of the jets skis began taking on water.

The new scheme involved Norton driving the drugs to a rural area near the border, where someone would cross, pick up the cocaine and take it back to Canada.

She said McLay was to follow her in another vehicle.

The arrests occurred before the plan could be executed.

McLay, who has seven previous criminal convictions in Canada which were not listed on the court documents, told the arresting officers that he had entered the U.S. by walking across a field. He had no identification on him at the time of his arrest. However, he was wearing two military dog tags – one imprinted with his name, ID number and blood type and the other with his lawyer's name and phone number.

McLay was sentenced to the mandatory minimum term. Because his prior convictions occurred in Canada, they could not be considered in the sentencing. If they had taken place in the U.S., McLay would have received a term of 17.5 to 22 years.

Norton pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and will be sentenced on May 27.




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