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Friday, December 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Attorneys sentenced to prison terms in drug-money case

Seattle Times staff reporter

Two lawyers who took drug money were sentenced to prison today by a federal-court judge who said he was "deeply troubled" by their ethical lapses and chastised them for failing their profession and their clients.

A. Mark Vanderveen, 46, was sentenced to three months in prison — triple the recommendation by federal prosecutors — and another three months of home confinement for taking $20,000 in drug money as a retainer and failing to report it to the Internal Revenue Service.

James L. White, a former Edmonds municipal judge and city councilman, received an 18-month prison sentence for a money laundering conviction. He had taken $250,000 — including $100,000 in cash stuffed in a backpack — from his client, convicted drug dealer Robert Kesling.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Friedman, quoting from a sealed memorandum filed by White's attorney, said White had become "intoxicated by the allure of piles of currency" and that he had allowed "greed to overcome his good judgment."

White, 49, used the money to pay off loans and take trips to Fiji and India.

He gave $20,000 to Vanderveen — a Rotarian and former police officer and prosecutor -- as a retainer to represent one of Kesling's couriers.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez said he was particularly bothered that $10,000 of that money was left in a paper sack on a judge's chair in the Edmonds Municipal Court where White presided as a part-time judge and where Vanderveen sometimes substituted as a judge.

"He committed numerous violations of his ethical duties as a member of the bar and the bench," Martinez said of White.

Mark Mestel, White's attorney, said his client is a "broken man."

"The question is, how much does he need to be kicked while he is down?" Mestel said.

White, who stood silent for a long moment, told the judge, "I don't have any explanation to offer for what's gone on."

White had hired Vanderveen to represent Wesley Cornett, who was one of Kesling's underlings in a cocaine and marijuana enterprise that was moving tens of millions of dollars of drugs between Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

At one point, Vanderveen agreed to allow White to follow his client to try to determine whether Cornett was working as an informant for the government.

In another incident, Vanderveen encouraged Cornett — who secretly was working for federal agents — to take a polygraph test to determine whether he knew what had happened to more than 450 pounds of missing marijuana. Cornett, who was wearing a secret microphone at the time, refused.

Martinez said it was "almost inconceivable" that Vanderveen, who had years of experience as a police officer and a deputy Snohomish County prosecutor, wouldn't have known that the money he was given came from drugs.

Robert Chadwell, Vanderveen's attorney, said his client's character had suffered a bump while trying to do a favor for White, who was a longtime friend and mentor. He quickly recognized his mistake, Chadwell said.

"Mr. Vanderveen's moral compass righted itself on its own," he said.

Vanderveen, who wrung his hands and wiped his eyes with a tissue, said he was "terribly sorry" for his conduct.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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