SEATTLE – Robert Kesling admits he didn’t give much thought to the risks he faced as an international drug trafficker.
After all, he had a corrupt lawyer on his payroll, a part-time judge who “assured me that I was ‘untouchable,’” he said in court papers.
Today, Kesling, 27, is scheduled to learn how many years he must forfeit for embracing such advice.
The former Woodinville man was to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle for his role in a drug ring that smuggled large amounts of cocaine, cash and potent “B.C. bud” marijuana across the U.S.-Canada border.
Kesling’s ex-lawyer, James Lloyd White, 49, a former part-time Edmonds Municipal Court judge, was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison last week after admitting that he had engaged in money laundering.
The best Kesling can hope for is a decade behind bars.
The defendant has been described in court papers as the local leader of an organization that traded in Canadian pot and Colombian cocaine.
Kesling was a professional submission wrestler and kickboxer who claimed to make a living renovating homes. His real income became public after federal agents in February seized more than 300 pounds of cocaine as it was being smuggled along U.S. 2 in Monroe.
Kesling was under federal investigation for two years before that bust. He knew he was on the government’s radar after a smuggling compartment was found in his car during a 2004 border crossing, assistant U.S. attorney Ronald Friedman said in court papers filed in preparation for today’s hearing.
Despite the scrutiny, Kesling continued to move hundreds of pounds of cocaine and marijuana, the prosecutor said. When his coke and couriers were rounded up early this year, federal agents secretly recorded him scheming even more drug shipments, Friedman said.
“These are the statements of a deeply involved criminal actor who simply will not refrain from criminal activity until he himself is arrested and forcibly removed from his criminal milieu,” Friedman wrote.
The government has asked Judge Ricardo Martinez to sentence Kesling to more than 17 years in federal prison.
Kesling’s attorney, Robert Huff of Mountlake Terrace, said a 10-year sentence, the minimum under federal sentencing guidelines, would be more just.
His client, a first-time offender, grew up as a commercial fisherman in Seward, Alaska, and has always placed a high value on friendship and loyalty, Huff wrote. Those qualities factored into Kesling’s naive belief that he should join in drug dealing with people his client still refuses to identify, the attorney wrote.
White got a reduced sentence in part by offering evidence against Kesling. Huff cited Kesling’s reliance on his ex-lawyer as evidence that Kesling is easily manipulated.
“Mr. White presented himself as able to assist Rob by running insider checks of law enforcement databases, conducting surveillance of law enforcement agents and other activities not normally associated with permissible attorney conduct,” the lawyer told Martinez.
White took Kesling’s money and assured him he could handle any legal troubles.
“In fact, Mr. White spent large amounts of the cash fees on himself, while stockpiling a portion of the money in case the need arose for Mr. White to hire another attorney who would know what to do if charges were actually brought against Rob,” Huff wrote.
Instead of protecting Kesling, “White’s incompetence allowed opportunities for the government to gather critical evidence against Rob,” including some secret tape recordings federal agents made in White’s office without the lawyer’s knowledge, Huff wrote.
In a letter to Martinez, Kesling said he was foolish to listen to White. He also blamed himself for going after easy money.
“It turns out that my downfall in life has not been my ambition – it’s that my ambition has far surpassed my wisdom,” he wrote.
Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.