HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html US Uses Anti-terror Law Against BC Pot Suspects
Pubdate: Fri, 06 Aug 2004
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Jeff Lee
Cited: The American Civil Liberties Union
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Terrorism)


U.S. authorities are using the U.S. Patriot Act anti-terror law for
the first time in Washington state to prosecute alleged marijuana
smugglers, including several B.C. suspects who were caught in a major
undercover operation involving nearly $3 million US in drug money.

A total of 24 people, including at least nine accused from the Lower
Mainland, have been indicted in three related cases in which an
undercover agent at times acted as a courier for people who wanted to
smuggle drug proceeds back to B.C., according to indictments filed in
the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

U.S. Customs, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the RCMP in Canada
cooperated on a year-long undercover investigation to break up a
drug-smuggling ring that was transporting hundreds of kilograms of
B.C.-grown marijuana to the United States, and repatriating drug
proceeds back to the Lower Mainland.

While such undercover operations aren't new, this case is unique
because the U.S. district attorney's office resorted to using a
provision in the U.S. Patriot Act in charging people with conspiracy
to engage in bulk cash smuggling.

The act was swiftly brought in after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks
as a way of combating the organizing and funding of terrorists. It
gives government agencies extraordinary and sweeping powers to
investigate and prosecute people.

But civil-rights organizations have complained the law is poorly drawn
up and gives the government too much power, including the right to
conduct secret searches, wider surveillance and access to sensitive
personal records.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is attempting to have the
law amended, said it threatens basic constitutional rights and warns
the act could be perverted for uses not originally contemplated. It
argues the law gives law-enforcement agencies the right to conduct
surveillance and detain people, and not have to report it.

Todd Greenberg, one of two assistant U.S. attorneys leading the case,
said this is the first time the act has been used in Washington state
against drug smugglers.

He said it was used in this case because it allows the government to
seize and order the forfeiture of proceeds of crime. While it is
illegal to import and export large amounts of money without reporting
it, the Patriot Act puts new teeth into the legislation, he said.

He said the Patriot Act allows the government to obtain a default
judgment against people who have received illicit funds from the
proceeds of drug smuggling.

He said there is no evidence to suggest those indicted were involved
in terrorist activities, and the case involves criminal drug dealing
and money-smuggling. But he said the Patriot Act isn't just for
anti-terror activities.

"The Patriot Act is not really confined to terrorist activity. This is
a general criminal statute that can be used to investigate and
prosecute terrorism and it could be used to investigate more
traditional types of organized crime."

But Doug Honig, a spokesman for the Washington branch of the ACLU,
said the case demonstrates the validity of civil rights groups'
concerns that the Patriot Act is too broadly defined.

The case began about a year ago when agents for the Bureau of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the DEA began to investigate a
drug-smuggling ring from Canada. They enlisted the help of the RCMP,
which on Thursday declined to comment other than to say it is
continuing to investigate the case on this side of the border.

The indictments indicate investigators intercepted cell-phone
conversations, and in one case used the information to intercept a
shipment of 118 kilograms (260 pounds) of marijuana that had just been
brought to Seattle from B.C.

Over a period of time the U.S. undercover officer delivered hundreds
of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds back to unindicted
co-conspirators in B.C. In each case the undercover agent was paid a
"smuggling fee."

There is no indication of how the RCMP acted on the information they
gleaned from the undercover operation, or if they intercepted the
smuggled money.

The indictments, which were handed down last week, allege that
Canadians were a key component of the smuggling operation, and that
the money was handed to people at a variety of locations in Surrey,
Richmond and Vancouver.

In some cases, the smugglers used the undercover agent to get the
money into Canada. In other cases, they tried to carry the money themselves.

In one case, Greenberg said in the indictments, two Canadians
identified as Richard Hoffman and Georgina Margaret Diamond were
caught last January at the Blaine border crossing trying to smuggle
$149,360 US in cash in Diamond's nylon stockings.

The indictment says Hoffman had been previously caught in June, 1996
trying to smuggle nearly $246,000 US into B.C. through the border at

In another case, the indictments say Loc Xuan Ho tried to smuggle in
$47,862 concealed on the bodies of his wife, niece and nephew. The
indictment doesn't indicate Ho's country of residence.

In addition to Hoffman and Diamond, the three indictments identify at
least seven other accused as Canadian residents.

Greenberg said none of the Canadians were arrested, but will face
extradition warrants. The case will go to court in October.


The U.S. Patriot Act gives American authorities sweeping powers to
secretly search homes, spy on the telephone and Internet
communications of suspected terrorists, detain suspects and seize
money or property of those supporting terrorism.

Passed by the U.S. Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New
York and Washington, the act:

- - Allows courts to issue secret orders requiring people to provide
"tangible things," including personal information, to the FBI.

- - Allows search warrants to be issued that carry no requirement to
immediately inform property owners that searches have been made.

- - Makes it illegal for people to take more than $10,000 US out of the
country without reporting it and classifies doing so as bulk-cash smuggling.

- - Allows the U.S. attorney-general to indefinitely detain, without
trial, aliens suspected of involvement in terrorism, with no
requirement to show evidence or explain his reasoning.

Supporters of the act say it is a necessary tradeoff to potentially
save thousands of lives.

Critics say the law is reactionary, has little to do with fighting
terrorism and violates Americans' constitutional rights to free speech
and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

The Patriot Act sparked an investigation by the B.C. privacy
commissioner to determine whether U.S. firms hired to administer the
B.C. Medical Services Plan could be compelled by the act to disclose
personal information about British Columbians in MSP files without the
knowledge of the people whose information is sought.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant instituted rules for disclosure in B.C.
in an attempt to curb what he called the Patriot Act's "very, very
small risk" to the privacy of Canadians.
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