A man who parlayed a group of rough friends, a disdain for the Hells Angels and what prosecutors describe as "laudable organizational skills" into one of Canada's most notorious gangs has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Clay Roueche, founder of the United Nations gang, so called because of its multiethnic character, appeared Wednesday for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik. Prosecutors had requested 30 years for Roueche, who pleaded guilty to drug and money laundering conspiracy charges last spring.
"I am absolutely certain that Mr. Roueche feared no one, took orders from no one and was the person making the decisions," Lasnik said.
Roueche, who long avoided the U.S. because he suspected he was wanted here, was arrested last year after he tried to attend a wedding in Mexico. Mexican authorities wouldn't let him enter the country, and at the request of the Americans, they put him on a flight home that landed first in Dallas. U.S. authorities were only too happy to take him into custody.
Prosecutors say he used a network of helicopters, planes, semi-trucks and other methods to move many tons of marijuana and cocaine and millions of dollars through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and expanded the gang's influence through threats and violence. The UN has been blamed for a number of targeted killings, though Roueche was not charged with any acts of violence.
"What an accomplished man this court has before it today," assistant U.S. attorney Susan Roe told the judge, citing his "truly fine business mind."
Unfortunately, Roe argued, Roueche used that mind to cobble a collection of thugs from disparate cultures into a vast illicit empire. He kept immaculate account of transactions, knew what drugs were moving where, and paid the living expenses of Canadian associates who lived in the U.S. He claimed he collected $26 million a year from marijuana sales in Western Washington, then shipped that money south to buy the cocaine he moved into British Columbia.
He avidly read the crime blotters in local newspapers, which Roe described as "his own personal business page," and took to traveling around in armored cars. He once broke an associate's drug addiction by chaining him in a house and keeping him under guard for three months, Roe said.
Roueche, 34, founded the gang in British Columbia's Fraser River Valley in the late 1990s, and the moniker was in part a jab at the exclusion of minorities by the Hells Angels, with whom the group sometimes sparred.
In a brief address to the court, Roueche thanked his friends and family for their support.
"I promise I will not make the same mistakes and do better if I get a second chance," he said.
Roueche's attorney, Todd Maybrown, argued that there's no evidence he engaged in violence. He suggested a sentence of 15 to 20 years, indicating that his client was contrite and willing to change his ways. Some murderers get less than 30 years, he noted, and other high-level drug traffickers prosecuted in Seattle for similar crimes received 17 or 20 years.
Furthermore, the UN gang didn't own much of the cocaine it shipped, he said.
"They were brokering, helping move loads for other people," he said. "This is not the head of the Cali cartel or the Medellin cartel."
Lasnik was unmoved, noting the havoc that drugs cause _ not only for users, but for the families of those involved in gangs.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and Leigh Winchell, the special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle, said it was gratifying to put a top gang figure away for a long time. Winchell likened it to cutting the head off a snake, but acknowledged the UN gang remains active and that won't stop overnight.
"Have you ever weeded your garden?" he asked.