British Columbia

B.C. drug boss who built helicopter-based smuggling 'empire' sentenced to prison

Colin Martin, now 46, leased helicopters to shuffle marijuana and cocaine across the border.

Colin Martin, now 46, leased helicopters to shuffle marijuana and cocaine across the border

Colin Martin, now 46, was responsible for delivering thousands of pounds of marijuana to the United States in a drug-smuggling "empire." He's been sentenced to seven years in prison. (CBC)

A Canadian man who leased helicopters and used them to run a cross-border drug-shipping empire has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Colin Martin, 46, was responsible for delivering thousands of pounds of "B.C. Bud'' from B.C. to remote forest clearings in Washington state and Idaho, where his pilots would drop off their cargo and pick up cocaine driven up from Southern California.

He was indicted in 2009, but spent much of the past decade fighting extradition to the United States before being transferred to Seattle early this year.

"It's been a long road,'' Martin tearfully told U.S District Judge Robert Lasnik on Friday. "I'd just like to apologize to the American people.''

Indicted in the '90s

Martin left school in eighth grade to work as a logger. In a 2009 interview at a restaurant his mother ran in Malakwa, about 160 kilometres east of Kamloops, he told The Associated Press he became involved in the drug trade after he saw his best friend killed in a logging accident.

Martin first came to the attention of American authorities in the late 1990s, when he was indicted in Spokane for a drug smuggling operation that relied on small airplanes. He was never extradited in that case but was convicted in Canada for the same conduct and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail in 2007.

While he appealed, he continued smuggling by leasing helicopters through Gorge Timber, a company registered in his wife's name. Investigators ultimately arrested some of the ring's couriers and used them to build a case against Martin.

The RCMP released this image of a helicopter, which was seized during an investigation into a cross-border drug smuggling ring in 2013. Mounties said the helicopter was loaded with drugs. (CBC)

One of his pilots, Sam Lindsay-Brown, hanged himself in the Spokane County Jail after flying into a law-enforcement trap in 2009, when federal agents met him as he landed in northeastern Washington state.

Another, Jeremy Snow, was killed in Kelowna, B.C. along with his girlfriend after being released from a four-year sentence in 2013.

Authorities never determined how long Martin had been running the helicopter-based business or how much drugs he was responsible for shipping. None of the money was seized, but several hundred pounds of marijuana and cocaine were.

Jeremy Snow and his girlfriend, Tiffany Goruk. Both were killed in Kelowna, B.C. after Snow was released from a four-year sentence in 2013.

One co-conspirator told investigators the group made about six smuggling flights a month with one of the leased helicopters, with each flight hauling up to 272 kilograms of marijuana. Martin would hire pilots to make the runs, typically paying them about $50,000 per round trip, as well as other workers who would help load and unload the helicopters.

"This defendant, Colin Martin, built his own drug transportation empire,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Vogel told the court.

While others handled the drugs, sometimes waiting in remote, snowy clearings for helicopters to land, she added.

"He stayed safe at home in rural British Columbia, where he knew it would be almost impossible for law enforcement to find him," Vogel said.

Martin's wife, Jennifer Martin, said in a phone interview Friday that she had hoped to attend the hearing with their six children, ages 5 to 17, as well as Martin's mother. U.S. border authorities denied them entry on Thursday night.

Her husband had bonded with the kids, worked for a road maintenance company and volunteered, including by painting a church, while out of custody from late 2014 to late 2017, she said. She said it was a relief that the sentencing was over, and that his prison term wasn't longer.

"You want to exercise your right to fight extradition, and you think that if you stall maybe something will change,'' she said. "But in hindsight, if he'd gone down lickety-split, he'd be home now.''

Washington state legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. Canada will legalize marijuana nationwide on Oct. 17.

With files from CBC News

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