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British Columbian pleads guilty to drug importation charges

A Canadian who admitted to organizing an international smuggling ring that used a helicopter to deliver drugs to remote areas of Washington state pleaded guilty in federal court today to felony charges of conspiracy to import marijuana, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In his plea agreement, Michael Dudas, 35, of Burnaby, British Columbia, acknowledged that between 2004 and 2005, he coordinated the transport and delivery of marijuana into the United States from Canada via helicopter. He also admitted to traveling to Ohio to purchase a Robinson R-22 helicopter for $33,000. This helicopter was used to transport the marijuana.

During a nine-month period starting in 2005, ICE's investigation revealed there were several successful marijuana deliveries organized by Dudas. On each occasion, a helicopter landed in a remote area in the national forest near Darrington, Wash. The marijuana was concealed in large duffle bags strapped to the outside of the helicopter.

Dudas served as the organizer of this Canadian-based smuggling ring, meeting with the helicopter pilot who transported marijuana across the border and arranging for off-loaders who agreed to receive the drugs in the United States.

Law enforcement seized more than 220 pounds of marijuana imported into the United States by Dudas and others working with him. Several others involved in this case, including the pilot and off-loaders, have been apprehended and sentenced for their crimes.

"Drug smuggling is a serious crime motivated by greed and disregard for the law," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE's office of investigations. "ICE will use its investigative resources to stop this type of activity, regardless of whether it is carried out by air, land or sea."

Dudas is scheduled to be sentenced in September 2008. He faces up to 40 years imprisonment, a $2 million fine, and a minimum of four years of federal supervised release following his release from prison.