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Originally published February 15, 2011 at 2:31 PM | Page modified February 15, 2011 at 4:04 PM

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Canadian drug kingpin resentenced to 30 years in pen

Onetime drug kingpin Clayton Roueche, founder of Canada's infamous "U.N. Gang," was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Onetime drug kingpin Clayton Roueche was emotional Tuesday as he stood before U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik for resentencing on drug crimes that netted him a 30-year prison term in 2009.

After 14 months of hard time at a maximum-security federal prison, seeing how drugs and addiction have ravaged the lives of many around him, he told Lasnik he now sees the damage he's done to society and he's sorry for it.

"It's been a horrible experience," said Roueche, as his parents and three daughters — ages 14, 10 and 8 — sat in the Seattle courtroom behind him. "It saddens me how [drugs] change people. I am very sorry for the negative impact my acts had on the community."

Lasnik said he found Roueche's speech "a heartfelt and careful — in a good way — presentation which I didn't hear the last time."

But it wasn't enough for Lasnik to give the notorious Canadian gang member less time, and the judge reimposed the 30-year sentence.

Lasnik, however, said he would recommend that Roueche — who is currently at a maximum prison in Virginia — be moved to the West Coast so he can be closer to his family.

And Lasnik said he would approve a treaty transfer to send Roueche to Canada to serve his time, providing the Canadian government guarantee it would honor Lasnik's sentence.

The sentence remains one of the longest ever handed down in a drug crime in Washington. Roueche, of Vancouver, B.C., pleaded guilty in 2009 to charges of conspiracy to import marijuana, conspiracy to export cocaine and money laundering.

Roueche appealed procedural elements of his sentence, and a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Lasnik for resentencing, saying the judge erred by not making specific findings about the evidence he relied upon in imposing the sentence.

Roueche's attorney, Sheryl Gordon McCloud, took the opportunity to revive arguments that the court was relying on some crimes that occurred in Canada and less-than-credible witness statements in arriving at the original sentence.

Federal prosecutors, who spent more than two years investigating Roueche's violent "U.N. Gang" — so named because its members span racial and cultural lines — and its role in importing tons of marijuana and hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the U.S., asked Lasnik to impose the same 30-year sentence.

The investigation into Roueche began in 2004 when a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent heard rumors that helicopters were smuggling marijuana into the Northwest along the border forests. The investigation cracked the U.N. Gang and ultimately netted more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana, 335 kilograms of cocaine and more than $2 million in U.S. currency.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Roe said there is evidence that the gang was moving as much as $26 million a year in cash alone. The operation smuggled thousands of pounds of marijuana from B.C. to the U.S., often into Seattle.

Cash generated by its sale was used to buy multi-kilogram loads of cocaine in Mexico, which was imported back into Canada.

Roueche was arrested in 2007 at the airport in Dallas after he was refused entrance to Mexico because of outstanding warrants in the U.S. smuggling case. Roueche was purportedly trying to attend the wedding of another gang member.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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