Spokane International Airport police suspected something was going on with the Canadian man they’d seen several times.
In the last four months, he’d rented several SUVs and returned them after racking up unusually high mileage – some 3,000 miles apiece.
Based on that tip, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began tracking Michael Barry Yuill, a 36-year-old resident of Salmon Arm, British Columbia, a small community about 300 miles north of Spokane.
Now, Yuill is facing federal drug trafficking charges in what authorities are describing as a major Eastern Washington cocaine seizure.
More than 80 pounds of cocaine – 38 kilogram bricks – were confiscated from Yuill’s rented SUV after agents spent two days tailing him last week, documents show. Yuill was in federal court Tuesday seeking release from jail while awaiting potential prosecution on an expected charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine.
His public defender, Jaime Hawk, described Yuill as just a “low-level player” in the alleged drug ring and told U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno that her client has a clean record.
“He’s never been in trouble before, not even a driving infraction,” said Hawk.
Yuill, an electrician and father of two, rode a 1989 red motorcycle into the United States on Oct. 1, according to an affidavit filed Thursday by federal authorities.
DEA agents spotted it parked at the Econo Lodge at 1503 S. Rustle Road in Spokane the next day, then saw Yuill drive away from the motel in a rented 2009 black Nissan SUV Oct. 6. He visited a storage center near the motel, then traveled to the Black Bear Motel in Davenport, where he left the next day carrying two large duffel bags, according to the affidavit.
Yuill was arrested early Oct. 7 on the Colville Indian Reservation. DEA agents found 38 bricks of cocaine in the SUV, Assistant U.S Attorney Tim Ohms said in court Tuesday.
“If he’s not the owner of that cocaine, he’s got some problems” and people to answer to should he return home, Ohms said. “He may not be able to predict what his circumstances could be.”
Ohms urged the magistrate to hold Yuill in federal custody. Hawk argued that he be allowed to return home while a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine is pending.
Imbrogno is expected to issue her decision today.
Yuill worked at a saloon in Salmon Arm that he’s helping rebuild after a fire Ohms said is under investigation.
Before that he owned a satellite business in Salmon Arm for five years, Hawk said.
A social networking Web site for the business said Yuill is known in the town as “the guy that dresses up as Shrek every Halloween,” referring to the popular children’s movie.
“He’s very widely known and respected in his community,” Hawk said.
The DEA agent who investigated Yuill is the same agent who helped with a major drug bust authorities called Operation Blade Runner. The bust began with two men being found with 80 kilograms of cocaine during a traffic stop in Utah.
Two days later, federal agents arrested a young man after he landed a helicopter with hundred of pounds of marijuana in the Colville National Forest.
That man, Samuel Lindsay-Brown, committed suicide Feb. 27 in the Spokane County Jail, according to jail officials.
The next week, agents arrested another Canadian man, Jeremy Snow, as he landed a helicopter in the woods near Priest River, Idaho.
Snow was sentenced to 3½ years in prison Oct. 2 in Western Washington District Court.
Federal agents cite interviews with drug runners in that case as part of their qualifications in the affidavit supporting Yuill’s arrest.