A B.C. senior was arrested after a huge drug bust off the U.S. coast — and this wasn’t his first time
He’s allegedly tried to smuggle cocaine, heroin and marijuana between the U.S. and Canada by boat multiple times over three decades.
Now, a B.C. man is awaiting trial once again after authorities allegedly found gallons of liquid meth on his boat off the coast of Oregon, which prosecutors allege he intended to distribute.
The Oregon U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday that it had filed a criminal complaint against John Philip Stirling, who was arrested after his sailing vessel was discovered travelling north near Newport on April 9.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the 65-year-old refused to provide documentation after U.S. Coast Guard officials boarded his ship. Those officials then found 28 seven-gallon jugs of liquid methamphetamine on board, authorities added.
“Upon further questioning, Stirling’s speech began to deteriorate, and he displayed signs of a possible drug overdose,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. Stirling was then airlifted to hospital for treatment.
He appeared in federal court in Portland, Ore., on Thursday, where the judge ordered him detained pending trial. Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service are now investigating.
John Paul Stirling, seen in a mugshot taken after his arrest in Oregon on Tuesday, April 9. Photo courtesy of the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Oregon.
According to court documents filed at that appearance, Stirling told nurses he took a “large amount” of fentanyl from one of the 10 kilograms he allegedly had on board after realizing his boat was being boarded by law enforcement but that he wasn’t trying to kill himself.
Stirling also said that he is a “drug smuggler” travelling to Canada and that he didn’t want to go to jail for the rest of his life, according to the documents.
Decades of arrests
A quick look through Stirling’s past shows that this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of smuggling drugs by boat, as he has a history of arrests stretching from B.C. to the waters off South America.
What’s more, Stirling claims to have had connections to Hells Angels and the RCMP that date back decades.
In 1989, Stirling was convicted in a cocaine smuggling conspiracy and was sentenced a year later to five years in prison.
In 2001, he popped up again after his boat, the Western Wind, was stopped by American authorities in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. American authorities said they found 2.5 tonnes of cocaine on board, which was estimated to be worth $300 million at the time.
Stirling and the four other crew members on board at the time were handed over to Canadian authorities, but the group was never charged.
Fast-forward to 2006 and Stirling was at it again, this time appearing at the centre of one of the largest drug busts in B.C. history.
His 47-metre fishing vessel was stopped off the coast of Vancouver Island, where authorities said they found bales of Mexican marijuana valued at $6.5 million on the street. According to police, the vessel was found to have travelled from Halifax through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast of North America.
Once again, Stirling avoided prison time after the charges against him were stayed.
In October 2011, U.S. Coast Guard officials caught Stirling captaining a boat with five other crew members just north of Colombia in the Caribbean Sea. That boat was found to have nearly 400 kilograms of cocaine on board.
While being transported by FBI agents to detention in Miami, Fla., Stirling remarked “that there was nothing wrong with cocaine trafficking and that the United States should mind its own business,” court documents read.
“He further remarked that if Canada didn’t have such high taxes, (he and the co-accused) could get legitimate jobs,” the documents continued.
This time, the charges against Stirling stuck, and he was sentenced in 2013 to 90 months in U.S. federal prison after pleading guilty.
An attempt to appeal the sentence, which was below sentencing guidelines for his crimes, was struck down.
Claiming to work both sides of the law
In an interview with Province reporter Fabian Dawson in 2002, Stirling said he was enlisted in 1999 by the Hells Angels on Vancouver Island to skipper a boat to Colombia to pick up cocaine for some of its members.
“The next day, the cops came to see me,” he told Dawson. “They knew everything and had been following these guys with some kind of special squad.”
Stirling said he was told by RCMP to carry through with the operation and several others afterward, including the ones for which he was arrested years later.
“If they come after me, I will take … the cops and the Hells Angels with me,” he told Dawson.
RCMP would not confirm whether Stirling had ever been an informant, citing safety concerns. They also wouldn’t comment on why criminal charges were ever stayed or avoided in past cases.
Stirling is now due for a preliminary hearing in federal court in Portland on April 25 with an arraignment scheduled for May 1.
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