December 3, 2009 in City

Drug runner gets six-year sentence

Court proceedings closed in narcotics ring case
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A drug runner arrested in the investigation of a smuggling ring that used helicopters to fly marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics throughout the region was sentenced during a secret proceeding Wednesday in federal court, his attorney said.

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 a sentencing memorandum filed Nov. 25.

Suko, however, sentenced Ferris to six years in prison, 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 kept 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 loaded with 426 pounds of marijuana in the Colville National Forest. Lindsay-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 reason. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington didn’t object.

U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt, who attended about half of 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.

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 Lindsay-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.

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