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B.C. man who ran airborne drug-smuggling ring pleads guilty in U.S. court

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SEATTLE — A Canadian man who ran a helicopter-based drug-smuggling ring years before Washington state legalized marijuana pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge Thursday, after fighting his extradition to the U.S. for much of the past decade.

Colin Hugh Martin, formerly of Malakwa, B.C., entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Seattle. He faces five to 40 years in prison, though the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it would recommend no more than 10 years when he is sentenced in June.

The 46-year-old father of six admitted he headed a drug ring that flew marijuana and MDMA, or ecstasy, south into Washington state and exchanged it for cocaine, which was then flown north into Canada. One of his pilots, Sam Lindsay-Brown, took his own life after flying into a law-enforcement trap in 2009, when federal agents met him when he landed in a remote clearing in northeastern Washington state.

Martin, 46, left school in eighth grade to go to work as a logger. In a 2009 interview, he told The Associated Press he became involved in the drug trade after he saw his best friend killed in a logging accident and the local salvage timber industry collapsed.

He first came to the attention of American authorities in the late 1990s, when he was indicted in federal court in Spokane for a drug smuggling operation that relied on airplanes. Martin never responded to those charges and was never extradited, but he was convicted in Canada based on the same conduct and sentenced in 2007 to 2 1/2 years in prison.

While he appealed, he continued smuggling by leasing or buying helicopters through a company called Gorge Timber.

It’s unclear how much the organization transported, but authorities seized more than 100 kilograms of cocaine and nearly 270 kilograms of marijuana. Then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan conceded, “This organization has been responsible for a much larger amount of drugs than what we were able to seize.”

Martin was indicted in 2009 in Seattle along with five other people.

The Supreme Court of Canada rejected his arguments against extradition in December.

Washington state legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. Sales at state-licensed stores began in 2014 and now top US$500 million a year.

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