Ashcroft Uses Patriot Act to Charge Pot Smugglers

We get a lot of calls from reporters asking whether we can point to instances of Attorney General Ashcroft using the Patriot Act to charge non-terror crimes. Here's an example from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The U.S. attorney in Seattle has used a Patriot Act provision to charge 15 people with smuggling marijuana money out of this country as part of a multimillion-dollar drug operation based in Canada. It is the first time the provision has been used in a major case in this district, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg. The indictments say an undercover agent spent nearly a year working with the alleged smugglers, accused of helping to deliver $3.4 million illegally into Canada in 2003. The money came from the sale of marijuana in the states, Greenberg said.

The 15 each were charged under the Patriot Act with one count of bulk-cash smuggling. Nine others were charged earlier with international money laundering and marijuana trafficking under a separate law. It has long been illegal to take more than $10,000 out of the country without reporting it. But the Patriot Act strengthened that law and "took it out of just being a reporting violation to be a smuggling, trafficking type of offense," Greenberg said. The crime carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and the forfeiture of the illegally transported money.

The U.S. Attorney conceded these defendants have no connection to terrorism.

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