I lost my original thread in the last crash, so out of sheer boredom at work I am resurrecting the tradition in a new thread.
B.C. fisherman held in drug bust again
A drug-smuggling Canadian fisherman who mysteriously escaped prosecution after being caught off Washington's coast in 2001 with 2? tons of cocaine in his boat's hold ? one of the largest drug seizures in Northwest history ? apparently is at it again: U.S. authorities have charged him after his sailboat was stopped off the coast of Colombia carrying 400 kilograms of coke.
By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Canadian fisherman and drug smuggler who escaped prosecution after authorities seized his boat and cargo of 2 ? tons of cocaine off the Washington coast in 2001 is now suspected of trying to smuggle 400 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia by boat.
The Oct. 18 arrest of John Philip Stirling, a gruff 60-year-old fisherman from Vancouver Island, marks the third time in a decade that he's been caught red-handed smuggling large quantities of drugs, according to court records. Until now, he's managed to avoid prosecution on both sides of the border, although nobody has ever said on the record how.
He remains unabashed and unapologetic, according to charges filed in the recent case in Miami.
While being transported to the Federal Detention Center in Miami, Stirling is alleged to have remarked that "there was nothing wrong with cocaine trafficking and that the United States should mind its own business."
The charges say Stirling's sailing vessel, the 58-foot Atlantis V, was intercepted 300 miles off the Colombian mainland by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Confidence on Oct. 17. The boat, which was in international waters sailing under a Canadian flag, was shadowed by the cutter while the Coast Guard awaited authority from Canada to board her.
The next day, while still awaiting permission, an Atlantis V crewman identified as Luigi Barbaro jumped into the sea and was picked up by the cutter.
"Barbaro informed the USCG that narcotics were on the Atlantis V and that he feared for his life." He claimed the remaining crew members were preparing to scuttle the boat. In the meantime, a second crewman jumped and was rescued, according to the charges.
After Canada provided permission to board the boat, a team from the Confidence found 358 bundles of suspected cocaine, weighing roughly 880 pounds, hidden behind woodwork. Two of the bundles were later found to contain heroin and methamphetamine, the charges say.
In 2006, Canadian authorities boarded another fishing vessel captained by Stirling in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and found $6.5 million worth of marijuana. Stirling was charged in British Columbia. However, the prosecution was "stayed" ? without explanation ? and Stirling and his crew went free.
But the 2001 case involving Stirling and another boat, the Western Wind, still sets eyeballs rolling in federal law-enforcement circles.
Stirling was master of the 88-foot tuna boat, which was stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Cape Alava. Under several tons of frozen fish, searchers found nearly 5,000 pounds of cocaine in bags marked as sugar. At the time, it was considered the largest cocaine seizure in Northwest history.
U.S. Customs took Stirling and four crewmen into custody, only to release them to Canada a few days later without official explanation. He was never charged.
Stirling, in an interview with The Seattle Times the following year, admitted he was smuggling the drugs but said he'd been caught in a squeeze-play between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Hells Angels.
Stirling said the RCMP backed out of a deal to pay him $1 million to set up a drug sting of the Hells Angels. Stirling said he'd been approached about the deal by a biker intermediary he met in prison in the early 1990s while serving time for smuggling drugs.
The bikers helped him buy the Western Wind, he said, but then the RCMP pulled out of the deal. He claimed he was left owing money and drugs to the bikers, and said they'd kill him if he didn't deliver.
Law-enforcement sources on both sides of the border told a different story.
They said Stirling told the RCMP the deal had gone south ? so to speak ? and that he had simply gone fishing. However, while at sea, he said, he received a threatening email from the bikers telling him to go to Colombia and get the drugs, or else.
Either way, it was a double-cross, said Donald Bambenek, a retired senior agent with U.S. Customs who was running the investigation onboard the Western Wind that day.
The Canadians refused to provide information about Stirling, citing a law that offers complete and unqualified protection to police informants. Nor would they cooperate with any plan to try to salvage the drug delivery in British Columbia, even though it gave the RCMP a chance to crack the Hells Angels.
Canadian officials also refused to let armed ? or even unarmed ? U.S. agents on Canadian soil, Bambenek said.
"The way things worked is that the Canadians had to protect their informant, even if he went sideways on them," he said. "It was frustrating. We hit several roadblocks. We were in international waters, and a lot could have been done, but it wasn't."
Calls left with the RCMP media office in Vancouver were not immediately returned.
"All I can say is I hope that nobody is stupid enough to use him in any fashion as an informant," said Bambenek, who now runs an investigative agency in Gig Harbor.
Stirling did make overtures, according to the Miami charging documents.
"Stirling waived his right to an attorney, but stated that he would not provide information unless he was going to be released from custody," wrote FBI Special Agent Eric McGuire. "However, when Stirling was notified that an immediate release was not possible, he decided to invoke his right to counsel."
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com
Guy has some serious connections higher up to get away with that much weight, that many times. And he waved his right to an attorney but wouldn't talk until he was let go. Awful bold. Curious to see if he gets time for this one.