A drug runner arrested in an investigation of a smuggling ring that used helicopters to fly marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics throughout the region reportedly was sentenced during a secret proceeding Wednesday in federal court.
The courtroom was closed and the transcript will be sealed under orders from U.S. District Judge Lonny Suko. No reason for the unusual closure was given.
Leonard J. Ferris, 50, pleaded guilty in April after being charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
He was planning to exchange the cocaine for marijuana in the Colville National Forest when he and Ross N. Legge, 53, were arrested near Ogden, Utah, on Feb. 21, according to court documents. Legge is awaiting trial in federal court in Utah.
The U.S. attorney’s office wanted Ferris to serve at least 17 years in prison, according to sentencing memorandum filed Nov. 25.
Suko, however, sentenced Ferris to six years in prison Wednesday morning, said his public defender, Gina Costello.
Ferris was arrested as part of a federal investigation into a drug ring that used helicopters to flood the region with cocaine, Ecstasy and marijuana. He and Legge stored property related to the drug ring in a Spokane Valley storage center, according to a search warrant.
Two days after their arrest, federal agents arrested Samuel J. Lindsay-Brown, 24, after he landed a helicopter in the Colville National Forest with 426 pounds of marijuana. Brown killed himself Feb. 27 in Spokane County Jail.
Costello had asked Suko to seal the sentencing and the forthcoming transcript at the beginning of the proceeding Wednesday but gave no reasoning and declined to elaborate after court. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington didn’t object.
U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt, who attended about half the hearing, said his office had no reason to object to the request because it was based on protecting public safety and law enforcement investigations.
“Why would we object?” McDevitt said.
The drug investigation, called Operation Blade Runner by federal agents, sparked a flurry of secret court activity in the case of Ferris and a woman thought to be connected to Brown.
Lucretia James is serving three years in prison after being arrested on a California highway with 73 kilograms of cocaine in 2008. Documents related to her sentencing in federal court in Seattle were made public only after lawyers for a Canadian television station made a request.
An attorney for James said in court documents that James fears for her life if details of her cooperation with authorities are released.