A U.S. court has given the former leader of one of British Columbia's key criminal gangs 30 years in jail for his leadership role in a massive cross-border drug-smuggling scheme.
Clayton Roueche, the Abbotsford-born founder of the UN Gang, showed no reaction yesterday as Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik imposed a sentence that will keep the 34-year-old father of three in U.S. custody until he is almost a senior citizen.
U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan later told a news conference that Mr. Roueche would have to serve 85 per cent of his sentence before possibly being eligible for release due to good behaviour. Mr. Roueche, through his lawyer, said he hoped to serve his time in one of two California prisons.
"It was a just sentence and a fair sentence," said Ms. Durkan, noting that she did not think Mr. Roueche has any grounds to seek a transfer to Canadian custody.
It was not immediately clear if Mr. Roueche would appeal.
The UN Gang has been part of a conflict that has led to scores of shootings in the Lower Mainland in the past year, causing misery for the families of victims, public concern and drawing unwelcome international attention to a dark side Canada's Olympic region in the months before the 2010 Games.
Before being sentenced, Mr. Roueche, whose only previous conviction was for assault in a 2007 fist fight, stood and apologized for his conduct, telling the court that he had learned from his mistakes, and would not make the same errors if given a second chance.
In a joint operation by police in Mexico, the United States and Canada, he was arrested in May, 2008, in Texas after being rebuffed in a bid to enter Mexico to attend the wedding of a UN Gang member. The operation sprang from a three-year investigation in which 335 kilograms of cocaine, hundreds of kilograms of marijuana and $2-million in U.S. currency were seized.
Mr. Roueche pleaded guilty to conspiracy to export cocaine, conspiracy to import marijuana and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. The defence sought a 15- to 20-year sentence. The prosecution wanted 30 years.
Judge Lasnik, acknowledging the sentence would be hard on Mr. Roueche's three young children, said he had to promote respect for U.S. laws, and deter others who may seek to lead the UN gang.
"Today is a day of reckoning," he told Mr. Roueche, who sat expressionless with his chin cupped in his hands beside his lawyer in a courtroom packed with spectators, including Mr. Roueche's parents.
Judge Lasnik said the sentence was appropriate given the harm that has spilled over into communities from Mr. Roueche's efforts as mastermind of a scheme in which B.C. bud was sold in the United States and profits used to buy cocaine that was smuggled back into Canada.
"There are children, brothers, sisters and parents suffering every day because of the cocaine and marijuana disbursed by the defendant and his fellow gang members," he told the court.
In one year, the enterprise generated $26-million in Washington that was sent to California to buy cocaine, prosecutor Susan Roe said in her oral submissions.
The court was told that the criminal enterprise spanned the globe and that Mr. Roueche travelled to such far-flung locations as Vietnam, Japan, China, Bangkok and Dubai.
"What an accomplished man this court is here to sentence," Ms. Roe told the hearing, praising Mr. Roueche's prowess as a business person.
She later told a news conference she was not being sarcastic, but thought Mr. Roueche would have been successful had he focused on legal enterprises.
Mr. Roueche founded the UN Gang - motto: honor, loyalty, respect - in Chilliwack on May, 25, 1997, and had T-shirts made to mark the anniversary, Ms. Roe said in her submissions.
Mr. Roueche's two successors as gang leader have been arrested on various charges, but about 100 members of the organization remain, police have said. Though based in the Lower Mainland, the UN Gang has connections in Alberta, Toronto and Montreal to pursue its interests in the drug trade.
Todd Maybrown, Mr. Roueche's lawyer, argued that Canadian police had withheld wiretap material targeting his client, and noted that some of the witnesses against Mr. Roueche may have been working for other drug players, muddying their sense of his total responsibility in the illegal drug trade.
Judge Lasnik disagreed, suggesting "[Mr. Roueche]is the leader with a capital L." U.S. officials dismissed any suggestions of the irony that it took the U.S. justice system to take a major B.C. gangster off the streets, noting that Canadian police played a major role in the case.
"The Canadians have been true partners in this," Ms. Durkan said.
RCMP Sergeant Bill Whelan of British Columbia's anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit declined comment on the sentencing, describing it as a U.S. matter.
He did say that the UN Gang is much diminished, but still the focus of police interest.
"There's a substantially reduced safety threat over the past couple of years due to police enforcement," Sgt. Whelan said.
Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations in Seattle, was more emphatic.
"We've cut the head off the snake at this point in time," he said.