CANADIAN SENTENCED TO MORE THAN 13 YEARS IN PRISON FOR SCHEME TO SMUGGLE ECSTASY IN ALTERED GAS TANK OF SUV
Defendant Sentenced for Smuggling $4.5 Million of Ecstasy
JAMES LEYSTRA, 42, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 13 ½ years in prison and 3 years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Import Ecstasy, Unlawful Importation of Ecstasy, and Possession of Ecstasy with Intent to Distribute. LEYSTRA was convicted February 6, 2008. The jury deliberated about five hours following a week long trial. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez, referencing the recent death of a Washington teenager from ecstasy, said “the idea of 70 kilos of ecstasy pills making its way into this state to be parceled out at discos and raves is an extremely serious crime.”
According to evidence and testimony at trial, LEYSTRA was stopped at the border on November 29, 2006, driving his 1995 Chevrolet Suburban. Border officers sent LEYSTRA for secondary inspection, where an alert officer noticed an abnormality related to the Suburban’s gas tank. Officers had to move fuses, and push certain buttons on the key fob to get a concealed section of the gas tank to drop down from under the vehicle. Inside they found more than 70 kilos of ecstasy worth an estimated $4.5 million.
At trial LEYSTRA testified that he was an “unknowing mule,” driving across the border as part of his car import business. Records showed that LEYSTRA had crossed the border ten times since July 2006, with the stated purpose of driving to California to purchase cars. With the modified gas tank the Suburban could only carry 12 ½ gallons of gas. Gas receipts entered into evidence showed that LEYSTRA made frequent stops for gas, never filling the Suburban’s tank with more than 12 ½ gallons. Prosecutors argued that LEYSTRA’s frequent stops to fill up his SUV with small amounts of gas showed that LEYSTRA knew about the modified gas tank in his SUV.
In asking for the lengthy sentence, prosecutors noted that LEYSTRA lied repeatedly on the witness stand, and was involved in the importation of huge quantities of ecstasy. “Leystra’s crime was very serious, involving one of the largest seizures of ecstasy at the border in Washington. The quantity and value of the illegal drugs Leystra knew he had concealed in his Suburban was staggering, worth an estimated $4,585,420. But for a very diligent Customs and Border Protection Officer who discovered the hidden compartment, those drugs would have been distributed, doubtless causing harm to the community where they were sold,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Karyn Johnson and Susan Loitz.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.