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Cocaine smuggler convicted in Montana

A prominent Sechelt man is facing a minimum of 10 years in a U.S. prison for trying to smuggle more than 30 kilograms of cocaine into Canada.

A prominent Sechelt man is facing a minimum of 10 years in a U.S. prison for trying to smuggle more than 30 kilograms of cocaine into Canada.

James Irvine Martin, 64, is the former chair of the Sechelt Public Library board and ran unsuccessfully for Sechelt council in 2002. In his campaign literature, he said he was vice president of the federal Progressive Conservative Party from 1974 to 1978 and later campaign manager for a Conservative candidate in Ontario and for a Reform candidate in B.C.

On April 27, after a two-day trial in Great Falls, Montana, Martin was convicted of attempted smuggling and possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute.

Martin's lawyer, Daniel Donovan, said it's very likely Martin will die in prison.

"He's probably facing 15-something years, and a Canadian doctor told me he has two years to live," said Donovan in an interview from his Great Falls office. "He has serious health problems: a heart problem, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver. His stomach area fills with fluid and has to be drained every four to six weeks."

Donovan has asked for Martin to be transferred to a prison medical facility while he awaits sentencing on Aug. 18.

Martin was caught Jan. 27 when he tried to drive a Dodge pickup containing a locked suitcase full of cocaine through the Coutts, Alberta border crossing. Canada Customs turned him away because the truck had Washington state licence plates, and Canadian citizens are not allowed to drive U.S. vehicles across the border. Martin said his own vehicle had broken down in Butte and he borrowed the Dodge from a friend. He said he was travelling from Los Angeles, where his son lives.

As Martin turned back, U.S. Customs and Border Protection decided to search the truck because Martin appeared nervous and the windows on the pickup shell had been painted black. The search uncovered a very heavy, locked black suitcase. Customs officers broke the lock and found 30 bricks of cocaine inside. The cocaine was more than 94 per cent pure.

The search also found three cell phones and two Blackberry-style pagers in the cab of the truck. Martin had bought two of the cell phones and registered them in the name of another person.

According to the U.S. District Attorney's office, the value of the cocaine in B.C. would be more than $1.25 million. If sold in gram amounts, the street value of the cocaine would be at least $2.5 million.

Donovan said whether to appeal the conviction would be a difficult decision for Martin. The treaty that allows Canadians to serve their sentences in a Canadian prison rather than in the U.S. does not apply while an appeal is in process.

The conviction cannot be appealed until after Martin is sentenced. In the meantime, Donovan has filed a request for a new trial on the grounds that the prosecutor asked Martin an improper question.

"He asked if [Martin] knew his son had been arrested and charged with narcotics distribution in B.C. in 2001," said Donovan. "I found out after the trial his son was charged but had been acquitted. I believe the prosecutor misled the jury."