News and Press Releases

MERCER ISLAND MAN SENTENCED TO 5 YEARS IN PRISON FOR DRUG SMUGGLING
Defendant had Special Compartment Built Into SUV to Transport Drugs and Money

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 22, 2010

JAMES DESHAWN RIGGINS, 28, of Mercer Island, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $15,000 fine for Importation of BZP. RIGGINS was arrested April 27, 2009, as he sought to enter the United States from Canada at the Peace Arch vehicle crossing at Blaine, Washington. Inspectors discovered a secret compartment in RIGGINS’ 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche that contained about 60 lbs. of BZP – a drug similar to Ecstasy. RIGGINS initially claimed he did not know the drugs were in his vehicle, but further investigation revealed he had been involved in a prolific and long term drug smuggling conspiracy. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said RIGGINS smuggled a large quantity of drugs and noted they are dangerous drugs because, “The drugs have characters associated with younger persons and the club scene.” Judge Jones noted that the pills could have been the beginning of a lifetime of addiction for thousands of young people.

According to records filed in the case, RIGGINS had been on the radar of Canadian law enforcement for over a year, due to his association with a drug suspect in Canada. On multiple occasions RCMP officers followed RIGGINS from the border to the home of the drug suspect. RIGGINS was present when the RCMP served a search warrant at the target’s Vancouver BC residence on May 8, 2008. In the first four months of 2009, RIGGINS used the SUV to cross the border into Canada 22 times. His bank records also revealed some $120,000 in cash going into his accounts at locations in California, while large cash withdrawals were made in Seattle shortly before his trips to Canada.

On the day he was arrested, inspectors discovered the secret compartment that was accessed by hydraulic arms, which moved a false panel, allowing access to the compartment. A special code had to be punched in on the seat controls to open the panel. The secret compartment contained more than 100,000 pills on the day of the arrest.

At sentencing Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Diggs argued that RIGGINS deserves a significant sentence, as he was not an “unknowing drug mule” doing the bidding of a smuggling organization. RIGGINS “was driving his own vehicle that was purpose-built to carry contraband and currency back and forth across the international border. The secret compartment in the defendant’s vehicle was sophisticated and required a substantial amount of time and money to install. The defendant’s willingness to transform his own vehicle into a high-tech drug smuggling machine evidences his level of involvement.,” Mr. Diggs wrote in his sentencing memo.

“Drug smugglers are motivated by nothing more than deception and greed,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Investigations in Seattle. “The public needs to be aware of the hidden dangers posed by illicit substances like BZP, which can threaten the safety and well-being of our communities. ICE remains committed to investigating those who smuggle any type of illegal drug into the United States and ensure they are brought to justice.”

For his part RIGGINS told the court his smuggling scheme was “not worth it. I had all the money, all the women, first class airline flights, but I still wasn’t happy.” RIGGINS said he became infatuated with a lifestyle that had him spending weekends with trips to Las Vegas.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worked on the case. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Diggs and Special Assistant United States Attorney Adam Cornell. Mr. Cornell is a Deputy Snohomish County Prosecutor specially designated to handle drug cases in federal court.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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