Bellingham brothers get 10 years for smuggling 29 kilos of cocaine

Two Bellingham brothers must serve 10 years in prison for trying to smuggle 29 kilograms of cocaine into Canada, as part of a crime ring that used military gear and wooded trails to bring drugs and guns across the border, a U.S. District Court judge ruled this week.

Last year John Emmett Brown Jr., 46, and Derrick Louis Carter, 39, were charged in federal court with conspiracy to distribute cocaine for an incident on the night of Nov. 8, 2014.

Carter had been pulled over by a Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy for speeding on H Street Road. The road stretches a dozen miles along the border from Blaine to Lynden, a “notorious” rural area for drug smuggling, according to a criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors. U.S. Border Patrol agents responded, and Carter gave consent to search the car. In the trunk agents smelled pepper spray, an odor that can distract drug dogs. In the center console, they found Brown’s ID.

Over a decade ago the brothers had been detained in the same wooded spot at Harvey Road, wearing bulletproof vests and camouflage. Ten times Brown has been arrested in Canada and deported; Carter had been deported from Canada three times. And in the years, months and even days before that November night, Brown had been caught carrying bear spray, smoke grenades, and other gear often used by smugglers.

So U.S. agents set up a lookout to see if Carter had dropped off someone, or planned to meet anyone. Moments later they saw silhouettes on the Canadian side, running by a ditch that marks the border.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police responded and found Carter’s cousin, Victor Tyrone Peal, of Bellingham, about ¾ mile north of the border. By midnight a second man Kyle Maurice Provo, of Surrey, B.C., was arrested in the brush nearby.

Agents suspected a third smuggler, Brown, escaped.

Three backpacks were found in the trees, with 29 kilos of cocaine wrapped in cellophane packages. That night police seized smoke grenades, bear spray, a ballistic helmet, a loaded pistol magazine, and four cell phones. Hours later, in daylight, Mounties found a Maadi Cadet pistol under a tree.

Provo told police he didn’t know Brown. (They are cousins.) A video dated Nov. 6 on his Blackberry showed Brown driving and patting a blue duffel bag. Another photo showed the same bag containing a white powder in packages.

After an 11-day trial in July a federal jury found the brothers guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The judge declared a mistrial on a third count: using the gun in the furtherance of drug trafficking. They faced mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison.

Defense attorneys noted that the two others defendants faced far less severe punishments because they “had the good fortune to be caught and charged in the Canadian criminal justice system.”

Federal prosecutors asked a judge to order 15 years in prison for Carter, and 18 years for Brown.

At a court hearing in Seattle this week U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman ordered both brothers to serve the minimum under federal law at the same federal prison, likely in Sheridan, Ore.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb