SEATTLE — A Vancouver-area gangster 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 a U.S. prison.
Coquitlam, B.C., resident Clay Roueche, founder of the United Nations gang, 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.
The UN gang has been blamed for a number of targeted killings, though Roueche was not charged with any acts of violence.
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, 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 Roueche used a network of helicopters, planes, semi-trucks and other methods to move many tonnes 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.
“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 avidly read the crime blotters in local newspapers, which Roe described as “his own personal business page,” and took to travelling 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.
His lawyer, Todd Maybrown, argued that there was no evidence he engaged in violence. He had suggested a sentence of 15 to 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.
Canadian investigators played no significant role in assembling the U.S. case against the man, but evidence of his organized-crime activities in Canada was collected by B.C. investigators.
Spokesman Sgt. Bill Whelan, of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in B.C., declined comment on the sentencing because it was a U.S. case.
But police say the gang has figured in much of the deadly gun play on Vancouver-area streets earlier this year.
Last April and May police charged eight men — who they allege to be members — with conspiracy to murder three brothers who investigators believe are at the top of a rival gang.
The group was charged with plotting to kill the alleged leaders of the Red Scorpions, Jonathan, James and Jarrod Bacon.
Police have charged one of the brothers and other alleged members of the Red Scorpions in the murders of six men in a Surrey apartment in the fall of 2007.