Going for as much as $1,750 a pound, it became one of the biggest cash crops in apple-rich Okanogan County.
It was supposed to be a secret business, but a lot of people knew about the marijuana crop, and more than 30 people were involved.
Sales were brisk for more than a decade, especially exports to Canada across a crossing called Nighthawk.
The marijuana would then be distributed throughout Canada by organized crime, a federal judge was told Wednesday in Spokane.
Shipments of money and pot would be hidden in the linings of pickup campers or car door panels.
Other times, mules would pack the pot over the border or raft-loads would slip in via river at night.
After deliveries, the smugglers would return to Eastern Washington and convert Canadian funds to American currency.
One participant alone converted $1 million in a three-year period.
To avoid suspicion, the cash conversions would occur everywhere from Seattle banks to casinos in Reno.
Sometimes business was so good that the Canadian cash would be buried in a private dump at an old hog farm near Tonasket.
The hidden cash would be dug up to pay attorneys or bail money if somebody involved in the operation got busted.
That eventually happened when Victor Fodor was arrested in May 1992 at the Nighthawk crossing by Border Patrol agents. They found 96 pounds of processed marijuana hidden in his vehicle.
Fodor’s arrest led authorities the next day to a barn near Tonasket, the “hog farm,” where 507 growing marijuana plants were seized.
As arrests were made, suspects cooperated with investigators in exchange for leniency.
Eventually Roy Stoddard Jr. was indicted on charges of being the ringleader.
The 41-year-old former logger pleaded guilty Wednesday in Spokane to nine federal counts, including possessing and manufacturing marijuana, money laundering and filing false income tax returns.
U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen scheduled sentencing for Nov. 24.
As part of the plea bargain, federal prosecutors agreed to seek dismissal of other charges. One of those counts accused Stoddard of operating a “continuing criminal enterprise,” and carried a 20-year minimum sentence.
His wife, Jacqueline Stoddard, later pleaded guilty to three charges of filing false income tax returns.
Five others await trial in early October. Three Canadians and one Mexican are still fugitives.
The case developed after a lengthy investigation by an organized crime strike force. Investigators from the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service, FBI and North Central Washington Drug Task Force were involved.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks said the marijuana smuggling operation was in high gear from 1985 through 1995.
Stoddard appears to have been involved in marijuana smuggling as early as 1979, the prosecutor said.
Investigators still don’t know for sure how much marijuana, usually packaged in 1-pound bricks, was smuggled northward or how much money the ring hauled in. They just shake their heads in disbelief.
When Stoddard and his co-conspirators in Okanogan County ran out of their own home-grown pot, they started buying supplies from a Mexican national, Hicks said.
The illegal alien would sell Mexican marijuana for $1,000 a pound and Stoddard’s smuggling ring would resell it for as much as $1,750, Hicks said.
Stoddard pleaded guilty to one count of manufacturing marijuana - the plants found in the Tonasket barn.
He also pleaded guilty to a charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, the drug found in Fodor’s car at the border.
Stoddard also pleaded guilty to four counts of money laundering. Those charges implicated him in the conversion of Canadian money used to buy the marijuana.
He also pleaded guilty to three counts of not reporting $155,893 of personal income from the marijuana smuggling for the years 1989, 1990 and 1991.