The co-owner of a downtown Spokane nightclub will spend 12½ years in federal prison for being an organizer and leader of a conspiracy to import $6 million worth of marijuana into the United States from Canada.
Corey S. Leavell used some of his drug profits to buy a 51 percent ownership in the Pub Club at 415 W. Sprague Ave. and start a hydro-seeding business.
He also built a $300,000 ranch home in Spangle, bought a duplex in north Spokane, land in Spokane Valley, a condominium in Mexico and a new house on Spokane’s South Hill. He bought furniture, stereo equipment, plasma TVs and an expensive champagne collection.
Leavell admitted using his businesses to launder money he obtained from the marijuana smuggling ring.
“I didn’t see the harm in it,” Leavell said in telling the court how he evolved from a supermarket box boy into a marijuana dealer who made $200 on each $2,400 pound of pot he imported.
He kept his hands off the smuggled marijuana, hoping to avoid detection as he instructed underlings how to distribute the pot by plane, train and car.
Soon, his suppliers in Canada were telling him “to step up” the amount he was buying, and Leavell could see no way out of the conspiracy.
He was arrested last spring by a Drug Enforcement Administration task force, including agents of the Internal Revenue Service.
“I broke the law, and I accept full responsibility for that,” Leavell told the judge. “I was hooked on the lifestyle.”
His interest in the various properties was forfeited to the U.S. government as part of a plea bargain Leavell struck in June when he entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to import more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana.
“I have to conclude that you were a major drug distributor,” Senior U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush said as Leavell stood before him at a sentencing hearing Thursday.
Because of the amount of marijuana involved, Leavell faced a mandatory, minimum term of 10 years in prison. He has been in custody since he was arrested in April with co-defendants Ryan R. Whitmore and Daniel P. Comeau, both 26.
The federal judge said Leavell’s marijuana smuggling and distribution ring, with tentacles leading to California, Minnesota and Wisconsin, was the biggest he’s seen during his 25 years on the bench in the Eastern District of Washington.
Leavell’s source of supply for the potent “B.C. bud” marijuana wasn’t disclosed at Thursday sentencing or earlier hearings.
His plea agreement, detailing his willingness to cooperate with investigators, was sealed from public inspection at the request of his defense attorney, and without objection from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Leavell had good family support and more chances in life than other criminal defendants who show up in court. Because of that, the judge said, he saw no reason for leniency.
The judge, who has been an outspoken critic of mandatory sentences and strict sentencing guidelines, said he would have given Leavell the same sentence if those requirements weren’t in place.
“You were leading the high life, the fast lane,” the judge told the 27-year-old defendant.
“I think 121/2 years is an appropriate sentence as punishment in this case,” Quackenbush said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington asked the judge to impose a prison term at the high end of a federal sentencing range of 151 to 188 months in prison. Leavell was given a reduced sentencing range for cooperating with investigators and accepting responsibility.
“This is more than a financial crime,” the federal prosecutor told the court. Harrington said Leavell and major drug dealers like him are the sources of supply for marijuana that makes its way to junior and senior high schools.
“He was truly the leader and organizer of this marijuana-smuggling conspiracy,” Harrington said, telling the court that major drug dealers need harsh punishment.
But defense attorney Frank Cikutovich argued that Leavell really was involved in more of a financial crime, supplying product to meet a demand, much like bootleggers did during Prohibition.
He said a sentence of five years, half the mandatory term, would send the same message to Leavell and others who will follow in his footsteps. “I’d rather have my kid sitting at home, smoking a joint than drinking and getting into a car,” Cikutovich told the court.
The judge said it was Congress that passed mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana smugglers like Leavell.
“We each have the responsibility to obey the law,” the judge said.
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