SEATTLE - A former student body president of a prominent Seattle high school, who was extradited back to the United States after fleeing the country to avoid prosecution on drug importation charges, was sentenced Thursday to 14 years in prison and five years of supervised release, following a long-term investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
David R. Mendoza, 44, formerly of Bellevue, Wash., pleaded guilty in June 2009 to conspiracy charges of importing more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. He was indicted in December 2006 and a month later, the indictment was unsealed after he was located living in Spain.
ICE immediately began working with the Department of Justice to seek Mendoza's extradition. He was successfully returned to the United States in May 2009.
Mendoza was identified as the leader of a conspiracy to smuggle multiple loads of potent "B.C. Bud" marijuana into the United States. Much of the marijuana was moved by commercial trucks and by helicopter.
In court documents, Mendoza admits he was responsible for a 400 kilogram load of "B.C. Bud" that was intercepted at the port of entry in Blaine, Wash., in the spring of 2003. The drugs were hidden in a load of lumber.
In 2005, Mendoza admits he imported more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana by helicopter into Washington State. In 2006, additional loads of marijuana belonging to Mendoza were seized.
In the government's sentencing memo, prosecutors wrote that Mendoza had been involved in the drug trade for more than two decades, noting that he was a "man of talent, intelligence and great charm." The prosecutors also wrote, "He spent the past 20 years of his life committing crimes, smuggling drugs, and moving money through semi-phony businesses while regularly using his aging parents to move money for him."
At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly told Mendoza, "You truly did have all the opportunities in the world - as president of Garfield High School - you got a degree, and then you got involved in drugs. It's tragic. You don't have anybody to blame but yourself."
As part of the plea agreement, Mendoza has forfeited to the government properties he owned in Bellevue, Tacoma, Wash., and Deer Park, Wash., as well as a movie theater in Bend, Ore. He admits these properties were purchased with the proceeds of the drug conspiracy.
"Today's prison sentence is a reminder of the serious consequences drug traffickers face for trying to bring illicit drugs into our communities," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE remains committed to dismantling the international drug trade while ensuring that those involved don't benefit financially."
Mendoza has two prior drug convictions including a 1990 conviction in Nevada for possession of cocaine, and a 1993 conviction in Washington for conspiracy to import hashish and for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and hashish.