BOSTON (CN) - A former cop in rural Maine who pleaded guilty to involvement in a cross-border drug smuggling scheme must serve the 10-year sentence, the 1st Circuit ruled.
According to court documents, Robert Rossignol lived in Van Buren, a rural community in western Maine, and for two years beginning in 2011, took advantage of its proximity to the Canadian border to engage in a conspiracy to transport drugs, money and firearms between the U.S. and Canada.
"The last successful trip before Rossignol's arrest took place in February or March of 2012 and involved the transport of eight kilograms of cocaine from Maine into Canada," prosecutors said. "During the subsequent, stymied trip that led to his arrest, Rossignol entered the United States from Canada at Hamlin, Maine while carrying some $300,000 in United States and Canadian currency, which he failed to report."
Rossignol was arrested and ultimately indicted on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, and one count of failing to report the importation of more than $10,000 in United States currency.
He pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 120 months in prison. Despite the fact the sentence was below the amount he could have received under sentencing guidelines, Rossignol appealed it on the grounds that it was unreasonable.
The former police officer said in deciding on his sentence, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, Jr. either ignored or insufficiently weighed considerations that would have resulted in far less jail time.
These included his age -- 61 at the time of his sentencing -- the fact he had no prior criminal record, and that he had previously been considered an upstanding member of society. Rossignol also complained that Woodcock had applied the dangerous weapons enhancement to his sentence, but not to the sentences of other members of the conspiracy.
But U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Howard, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel, disagreed with these assertions.
Howard found that "the record reveals that the court placed particular emphasis on 'the history and characteristics of the defendant, the nature and circumstances of the offense, and the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities' -- in other words, the exact factors Rossignol now recites."
"Far from ignoring them, the sentencing transcript makes plain that the district court specifically considered each of these factors but viewed many as cutting against Rossignol in the context of this drug conspiracy," Howard wrote.
Howard noted that "the district court identified Rossignol's strong community ties and considerable civic service but, instead of weighing those factors in favor of leniency, viewed them as evidencing a particularly acute breach of the public trust in Rossignol's close-knit border community.
"The court likewise invoked Rossignol's stature in the community as one reason he received a longer sentence than several co-conspirators, noting that 'the other people involved in this conspiracy ... would not have been waved through customs like this defendant was,'" the judge wrote.
The panel also concluded that Rossignol's lack of a prior criminal record did indeed factor in a sentence that was far below the 150 months prosecutors were requesting. The district court tipped its hand in that regard, the appellate judges said, but expressing its view that it is "highly unlikely that [the defendant is] going to be doing criminal conduct when [he] get[s] out of prison.'"
Howard used this same reasoning to debunk Rossignol's age-based arguments.
As to why the sentence wasn't more lenient, the panel said, "the district court here concluded that imposing a more lenient sentence 'would send a terrible message to the people of the St. John River Valley that if they abuse the trust of their friends and neighbors on both sides of the border, that they'll be treated gently.'"
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