Agents seize barge full of marijuana

Law officers look down a hatch of a barge last Thursday at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park after finding marijuana aboard the barge. The tug that brought it is registered in British Columbia. - Jim Larsen
Law officers look down a hatch of a barge last Thursday at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park after finding marijuana aboard the barge. The tug that brought it is registered in British Columbia.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Four Canadians suspected of marijuana smuggling were arrested Thursday morning as they tried to unload a barge on Deception Pass State Park land fronting Cornet Bay.

Police found 15 big cardboard moving boxes stored in the hold of the small barge, which had been pushed ashore by a small tug. The boxes contained 446 pounds of marijuana in 374 plastic bags.

The tug, named Delta Fox, and the barge were both registered in British Columbia, according to police at the scene. There were three men in the tug.

A yellow Penske rental truck had been backed up to the shoreline to accept the delivery. The truck driver was seized.

State Trooper Scott Wernecke said a U.S. Customs agent opened one of the cardboard boxes and identified the contents as 20 to 25 pounds of Canadian marijuana, known in law enforcement circles as BC Bud.

Not all of the boxes were opened, however. They had been removed from the barge and stored in the Penske truck. An officer with a drug-sniffing German shepherd went over the unopened boxes.

Deception Pass Park Manager Bill Overbee said suspicions were aroused at about 7 a.m. Thursday when park staffers wondered why an apparent commercial operation was taking place on park land.

"Commercial use at a parks facility is not sanctioned," he said.

Overbee dispatched Rangers J.L. Aggergaard and Henk Sikkenga to investigate.

"The park's marine guy saw it coming in," Ranger Aggergaard said of the tug and barge. "A commercial vessel in a state park -- it was kind of 'off'.' "

The marine guy was aboard the park's maintenance boat, the Thunderbird.

Aggergard said the suspects caused no problems when approached.

"They were pretty cooperative, but their stories didn't match up," he said.

The rangers called dispatch which alerted appropriate authorities.

By 9 a.m., the suspects were being held in the back seats of police cars. Officers from the Island County Sheriff's Office, State Patrol, U.S. Customs, and other agencies were present. A number of undercover agents in plain clothes milled around the scene. A few nearby residents looked on curiously as did several anglers fishing from a public dock not far from where the barge hit the beach.

All four suspects were taken to the Oak Harbor jail later that morning.

"They used our facility to hold all four and do interviews," said Police Captain Rick Wallace.

U.S. Customs agents took the suspects away later in the day to a jail facility in Seattle.

On Friday afternoon in in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the four men were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and importation of marijuana. Suspects Edward Guy Bolderson, 63, Mark Edward Bolderson, 40, Guy Cameron Crawford, 42, and Peter Francis Mitchell, 34 are all being held in jail.

According to the charging documents, one of the men threw a piece of paper into the brush. Island County Sheriff's Deputy Rick Norrie retrieved it and found that it listed the names of several individuals the men were going to meet in Oak Harbor.

Plenty of BC Bud is coming into the U.S. from Canada, by land and by sea. Peg Fearson, a U.S. Customs inspector in Blaine, said that since October 2001, two tons of BC Bud have been found hidden in commercial trucks trying to cross the border at Blaine.

"The wholesale value of two tons of this high potency BC Bud is approximately $12 million," she wrote in an article posted in January on the Customs Web site.

The Cornet Bay haul was about one-tenth of that, so the value may be around to $1.2 million.

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