SEATTLE - A Bellevue, Wash., man who was a key figure in a scheme that used helicopters to smuggle marijuana from Canada into the United States made his initial appearance today in federal court on a seven-count indictment, following a lengthy investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
David R. Mendoza, 44, was indicted in December 2006 on drug trafficking charges and a few months later, ICE investigators learned he was living in Spain. Mendoza was successfully extradited back to the United States last month.
Mendoza has been identified as the leader of a conspiracy to smuggle more than 100 kilograms of potent "B.C. Bud" marijuana by helicopter into the United States from Canada. He is specifically charged with smuggling the drugs on August 4, 2005, February 7, 2006, and multiple times between June 1 and August 17, 2006.
"This investigation shows ICE's resolve to pursue those who think they can flout our nation's drug smuggling laws and flee," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Seattle. "We will continue to aggressively investigate those involved in illicit drug activity to ensure that they face justice."
The government is seeking forfeiture of properties owned by Mendoza in Bellevue and Deer Park, Wash., as well as a movie theater in Bend, Ore., since ICE's investigation showed these properties were purchased with the proceeds from the drug conspiracy. The investigation also shows that in 2005, Mendoza made more than 50 deposits of $2,500 into bank accounts to avoid bank reporting requirements.
Mendoza faces a minimum mandatory term of 20 years if convicted on some of the charges due to his prior drug convictions in the 1990s. He was previously convicted in Nevada for possession of cocaine and in Washington for conspiracy to import hashish and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.