By : Maxine Bernstein
A convicted Canadian drug smuggler pleaded guilty Monday to smuggling a large amount of methamphetamine on a boat called the Mandalay as he sailed near Newport in April.
Philip Stirling, 65, entered his plea just six days after a federal judge denied his motion to dismiss the case.
Stirling and his federal public defender had unsuccessfully argued that U.S. District Court lacked jurisdiction because there was no connection between the vessel and the United States and that the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act was unconstitutional.
Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend Stirling be sent to prison for seven years and three months when he’s sentenced on April 20. Stirling also has agreed to forfeit the boat.
According to court documents, the U.S. Coast Guard encountered the Mandalay on April 9 during a routine patrol. The Coast Guard noticed that “Seattle’’ was stamped on its hull but there was no flag flying and no visible registration numbers on the vessel.
A Coast Guard boarding team sailed alongside the boat and through a loudspeaker demanded contact with the Mandalay’s crew, according to court records.
“This is the U.S. Coast Guard. Come out with your hands in the air,’’ they said, according to court records.
When no one responded, Coast Guard officials contacted the ship’s pilot through a marine radio. Stirling was instructed to come to the ship’s deck, but he told them he couldn’t walk due to the weather. He said he was Canadian and so was his boat.
Because that information conflicted with the marking on the ship’s hull, the Coast Guard authorized a boarding team to go onto the vessel to determine its nationality.
Stirling remained below deck. Coast Guard members found him lying on the floor of the main cabin. He also was “slurring his speech’’ and had a hard time answering their questions, according to prosecutors. At one point, Stirling appeared to fall asleep. A medic was called to respond and administered the overdose-reversing drug naloxone after recognizing Stirling was suffering from a drug overdose. Stirling was then airlifted to a hospital in Astoria.
A search of the ship revealed 28 jugs of yellow-tinted liquid stored on both sides of the outer deck. Tests revealed the liquid was methamphetamine, according to prosecutors.
The maritime law makes it a crime to distribute or possess a controlled substance on a ship subject to jurisdiction of the United States. That includes a so-called “vessel without nationality.’’ The Mandalay fit that description because the Canadian government denied that the Mandalay had been registered in Canada, according to the U.S. State Department.
Stirling told a nurse at a Portland hospital where he was transferred that he was heading to Canada with “a ton of meth and 10 loads of fentanyl” and that he didn’t want to go to jail for “the rest of his life,” according to a federal affidavit.
Stirling has been caught transporting drugs by boat in the past.
>He was stopped in 2001 with around 2,500 kilograms of cocaine and again in 2006 with an estimated $6.5 million worth of marijuana, according to The Vancouver Sun in Canada. He wasn’t charged in the first instance but was charged in the second incident. That case was stayed, meaning the charges weren’t dismissed but the case did not proceed.
He was arrested five years later by the Coast Guard after authorities found him at sea with four other crew members near Colombia with about 380 kilograms — more than 800 pounds — of cocaine and a little more than 1 kilogram of heroin on their 64-foot Canadian-registered sailing boat, court records show. The crew was about 90 miles away from their destination, Jamaica, when they were stopped.
Stirling was eventually sentenced to 7 1/2 years in federal prison in the United States in 2013 after pleading guilty to importing cocaine.