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Saturday, December 10, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Drug smuggler gets 17-year sentence

Seattle Times staff reporter

Capping a case that has resulted in four other convictions, including those of two criminal defense attorneys, a federal judge Friday sentenced a 27-year-old drug smuggler to 17 years in prison.

Robert Kesling's sentence, imposed by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, was six months less than what prosecutors had asked for, but seven years more than what his defense attorney had sought.

In explaining his reasoning, Martinez referred to Kesling's decision not to cooperate with prosecutors, and to substantial volumes of marijuana and cocaine his organization smuggled, which the judge described as very high "even by federal court standards."

Martinez described Kesling as a "very complex and enigmatic young man," alluding, in part, to his history of achievements, including coming of age in the wilds of Alaska, graduating from the Seattle Maritime Academy and competing in the sport of jujitsu.

Kesling, arrested last May, pleaded guilty in September to conspiring to distribute cocaine and marijuana. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he could have received up to 30 years.

Addressing Martinez, Kesling accepted responsibility for his actions, saying his illegal activity was "clearly a case where my ambition surpassed my wisdom."

In a letter to the judge, Kesling explained his decision not to cooperate. "I just do not think I could look myself in the mirror if I did what the law and the government asked of me, and 'sold out' others, just to save myself."

Kesling wrote that he got into the drug business when he was selling cars and living in Seattle, where he met people who showed him how "I could make more money, in less time, by selling small quantities of marijuana."

Kesling also sought to explain his mind-set — why he continued to traffic in drugs even after a number of warning signs — saying he was influenced by "bad advice" from James L. White, his former lawyer. He wrote that White told him he was "untouchable."

In its sentencing memo, prosecutors noted that Kesling had been involved in drug trafficking since at least early 2003, as documented by a secretly recorded conversation he had at the time with a government informant. "Kesling stated that he was moving 100-pound quantities of marijuana into the U.S. from suppliers in Canada, and moving multikilogram shipments of cocaine [from Colombia] back into Canada," prosecutors wrote.

In a seizure that helped lead to his downfall, federal agents and Monroe Police last February stopped a car driven by Douglas Spink, one of Kesling's drug couriers, and confiscated 149 kilograms of cocaine with an approximate street value of $34 million. And that, the judge noted, "was just one shipment."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Friedman noted that Kesling persisted in the drug business after his own near arrest, after the arrest of his associates, and after the government seized drugs. "There was just no stopping," Friedman said.

Last week, Martinez sentenced White, 49, a former part-time Edmonds municipal judge, to 18 months in prison and two years' supervised release. Last summer, White pleaded guilty to money laundering for receiving $100,000 in cash from Kesling, knowing it was drug money.

The judge also sentenced A. Mark Vanderveen, 46, of Lake Forest Park, a former prosecutor, police officer and pro-tem judge, to three months in prison and three months of home detention and two years' supervised release. Vanderveen had pleaded guilty to failing to report a cash payment exceeding $10,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, as required by law.

The cash that Vanderveen failed to report was $20,000 he had received in two, $10,000 payments from White, who doled it out from the $100,000 he had received in a backpack from Kesling.

Last month, Spink, 34, and Wesley Cornett, 28, a second drug runner, each received a three-year sentence from Martinez, who accepted joint recommendations for leniency from defense attorneys and the government because of their cooperation.

Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or plewis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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