66-year-old smuggler: I want to build a life out of this ‘failed one’
Twenty years after helping to smuggle 25 tons of hashish into Washington, an elderly man who spent nearly as long hiding in Europe will likely be sentenced to prison.
For having helped lead one of the most audacious drug smuggling operations in state history, Lee S. Rushing faces up to 12 ½ years in federal prison when he is sentenced Thursday morning in U.S. District Court at Tacoma.
Rushing was initially charged in 1997 during a prosecution that ultimately saw 23 other men indicted for their alleged involvement in the smuggling plot. While on the run, Rushing was able to live off several hidden bank accounts for another decade after fleeing the country.
In 1992, Rushing, co-defendant Frank Falco and several others, concocted a plan to ship 50,000 pounds of hashish from Pakistan to the Washington coast. There, they planned to transfer the marijuana derivative to a fishing boat, take it ashore and send it to New York City for distribution.
For their efforts, each of the conspirators expected to make a minimum of $2.5 million. Instead, at least four ended up in federal prison; Rushing will likely be the fifth.
In a letter to the court, Rushing described himself as an arrogant man who had to do things “’my way,’ the hard way.” He said he now realizes he gave up a large part of his life to avoid prison.
“While for some years I did manage to successfully avoid being locked ‘up,’ I did quite well succeed at the same time … in locking myself ‘out’ and cutting myself off of and away from everything which truly gives real meaning to life – family, friends, and community,” Rushing told the court.
“Realistically or not,” he continued, “it is now my greatest hope to be allowed to come in at long last from the cold, and to try to rebuild a more positive and productive life from the ashes of this, so far, failed one.”
Born to an Air Force family, Rushing was raised on military bases before joining the Navy, where he served as a junior officer in the late 1960s. After leaving the service, he held a series of low-skill jobs while running afoul of the law for offenses unspecified in court documents.
Rushing and the others pooled money to pay for the operation’s “start-up” costs, including the Kila Kila fishing boat and a pier in South Bend, a Pacific County town on Willapa Bay. The group fronted Rushing $200,000 for one ton of hashish to be purchased as a “good will gesture.”
According to prosecutors’ statements, Rushing was the man who found a hashish supplier in Pakistan and helped find a ship to take it halfway around the world.
The day of the operation, three fishing boats went out to meet the drug runner off the Washington coast. The hashish was loaded into the Kila Kila alone; the other boats were there in case of emergency.
Rushing then sold some of the hash, splitting the proceeds with the other men. All told, they were able to launder more than $2.5 million before they ran into trouble.
In court documents, the defendants admitted to sending five tons of hash to California and 10 to 15 tons to a warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. Police ultimately raided the New York “clearinghouse,” prompting Falco and at least three other conspirators to flee to Mexico.
Rushing stayed behind to continue selling the hashish so he could payoff his supplier. According to court documents, he was assisted by a man known as “Tom Terrific.”
By 1995, though, Rushing was ready to run.
Having been given 20 percent of the total hash haul and cash, Rushing sold what he could before fleeing to Europe. Prosecutors say he sunk some of the money in bank accounts and had the rest sent to him by courier.
In 1999, Rushing lost about $200,000 in another hash smuggling operation. From then until his arrest in 2008, though, he was able to live off the money he’d made in the initial haul.
Rushing was arrested on Nov. 28, 2008, in the Netherlands while traveling under an assumed name, Anthony Robert Bear. He was extradited a year later.
“Much time has passed since the defendant committed this offense, yet, it still stands out as one of the largest hashish smuggles ever on the West Coast,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Thomas said in court documents. “It was a very serious*offense.”
As part of a guilty plea made in February, Rushing – who has no violent criminal history, beyond the massive drug smuggling operation for which he’s being sentenced – admitted to conspiring to launder money and agreed to pay back $2.5 million. So far, he has forfeited $280,000 held in several Cayman Islands accounts; prosecutors have acknowledged they likely wouldn’t have found the hidden*cash.
Prosecutors have recommended Rushing be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison, two fewer than one codefendant who served a 12 year prison term while Rushing was on the run. Another co-defendant, Falco, who spent years on the run was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the*scheme.
Noting that her client’s sentencing will “finally close this chapter, once and for all,” defense attorney Karen Unger told the court Rushing deserves some mercy in part because he has never been involved in a crime of*violence.
While nominally free, Unger said her client’s crime forced him to live “the life of a fugitive” since the scheme came apart more than 15 years ago. She asked that Rushing receive a term close to four years in*prison.
“He is now alone, infirm and hopeful that, with whatever time he has left, he can renew his old friendships and live a peaceful, and lawful, life,” Unger told the court. “Mr. Rushing is clearly not a danger to anyone and has never harmed*anyone.”
“On a personal note, Mr. Rushing has turned out to be one of the most interesting clients I have had the pleasure to work with,” the defense attorney continued. “He is extremely intelligent, well-read and respectful. He made some very poor choices in his life, no doubt influenced by the times in which he*lived.”
Writing the court on his own behalf, Rushing described himself has having squandered a life that once held some “modest*prosepect.”
“This most recent mini-life for me within my life’s larger journey, especially these last 3+ years of confinement, has given me great cause and opportunity for self-examination and, indeed, rumination over the course of that life,” Rushing told the*court.
“They say that life and God do sometimes combine in mysterious ways,” he continued. “It now seems possible, contrary to all my expectations these many years, there may yet well be one last positive juncture remaining in this long and winding road of my life’s*journey.”
Rushing is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan at the federal courthouse in Tacoma. He remains*jailed.
By LEVI PULKKINEN,
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
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