One-by-one, four members of a group of young people that police and federal prosecutors has called a multi-million-dollar marijuana smuggling ring delivered earnest expressions of remorse and brief pleas for leniency during sentencing hearings on Monday.
And one-by-one they heard the following from U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge as he sentenced them to 30 months or more in federal prison:
“Words are cheap.”
As the defendants appeared for separate hearings – Christopher Torres late in the morning, Skyler Brown after lunch, Michael Gilliland in midafternoon and Jayson Coleman in late afternoon – crowds of up to 40 family and friends filled the small courtroom in Coeur d’Alene’s Federal Courthouse.
“You turn around and look in the back of the courtroom and realize how lucky you are,” Lodge told Torres.
Reminding Gilliland that federal agents seized property and possessions believed to have been purchased with drug money, Lodge said, “You are going to lose the property you thought was so precious at one time.”
Continued criminal behavior risks “forfeiting all that is behind you in this court, and that is much more precious,” Lodge said, indicating the five solid rows of family members and friends.
Lodge threatened each of the four men that they came within a whisker of facing mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in federal prison. He lectured the defendants that involvement with marijuana can, he believes, ruin lives far beyond the circle of Coeur d’Alene-area friends that was importing it for about two years, making nighttime treks across the Canadian border with backpacks filled with anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds of weed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Cook reached plea bargains with the four defendants and asked that Lodge remove the mandatory minimums and agree to lesser sentences.
Torres, who was a lookout driver during smuggling runs across the Canadian border, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, fined $2,000 and ordered to serve five years of supervised parole after he gets out.
Brown and Coleman, who were runners and carried backpack loads of weed, received identical fines and prison sentences and each got three years of supervision after release. Of the four, Gilliland had the deepest involvement in the smuggling ring and appeared in court wearing a Kootenai County Jail jumpsuit after his recent arrest for a probation violation. He was sentenced to 41 months with a $2,000 fine and three years of post-prison supervision.
Lodge, noting Gilliland’s two probation violations since federal warrants were served late last fall, said, “What you have told other people is worthless. I don’t have much faith – I have hope, but I don’t have much faith – in what you are saying to me. Your word has not been your bond.”
Lodge told each of the young men he hears promises of new lives and better choices every time he sentences somebody, “And when they walk out of this court, they forget what they’ve said.”
“If you keep your tongue, if you show some grit,” he said, and if they realize a prison sentence often hurts family members and loved ones more than it does the convict, “then you might come out a better person than you thought you could have been.”