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This article was published 22/10/2009 (4378 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BISMARCK, N.D. – A Winnipeg concert promoter was sentenced to 57 months in a U.S. federal prison today after admitting to his role in an international guns-for-drugs smuggling operation.
Gokhan Ozturk, 23, said he is ashamed at the damage he has caused by arranging to have at least 22 handguns brought into his hometown. Only three have been recovered – all in the hands of local criminals, court was told.
"I’ve been thinking a lot about all I’ve added to the corruption of society. I was only feeding that fire," Ozturk told Chief Judge Daniel Hovland. His parents and several other family members made the six-hour drive from Winnipeg to witness the sentencing hearing.
"I’m not proud of what I did. I know I’ve let a lot of people down."
Ozturk pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic firearms and ecstasy. Lawyers made a joint-recommendation for a sentence in the range of 57 to 71 months based on his youth, prompt guilty plea and lack of criminal record.
Hovland told him he could have faced up to 50 years behind bars if he committed the same crime in many other U.S. states.
"I know I am very lucky to be in this position. I know I can get a second shot, show that I’m not a loser," said Ozturk. "I will do something positive with my life after this."
Ozturk has spent nine months in custody since his January arrest, which leaves him with another four years to serve. He will be eligible for early release in January 2013 after serving 85 per cent of his total sentence.
Ozturk could also be given a further reduction if he agrees to co-operate with American and Canadian justice officials regarding ongoing investigations into the case, court was told. Ozturk told court today that several other Winnipeg men were involved in the year-long crime but have yet to be arrested.
Two other accused have already been sentenced for their roles.
Former Winnipeg resident Thomas Scher, 20, was given one year in jail after pleading guilty this past summer to selling ecstasy he received from Ozturk in exchange for the guns. Scher had been attending Minot State University on a football scholarship.
His college friend, Curtis Rolle, 23, was given the same sentence in August.
Ozturk recruited Rolle and Scher to obtain a variety of firearms from several outlets in the Minot area. Rolle purchased the weapons and then smuggled them into Canada with Scher. This was done on at least eight occasions and involved at least 22 semi-automatic handguns of various makes. They would meet Ozturk in Winnipeg and be paid either $1,000 cash per weapon or with ecstasy tablets.
Scher and Rolle admitted they sold 1,800 doses of the illegal drug to people in North Dakota and then pocketed the profits. After being arrested in December 2008, the pair agreed to assist police.
Scher began speaking with Ozturk in conversations investigators recorded. A meeting was set up for Jan. 22 in a parking lot in Minot. Ozturk drove to North Dakota believing he was going to meet a potential new client, as arranged by Scher. In fact, it was an undercover police officer.
Ozturk told the agent he didn't like the Jimenez Arms guns he'd been receiving because "they jam." He asked for SIG-Sauer and Beretta models. He also showed ecstasy samples. Ozturk believed he was going to trade 10,000 ecstasy tablets for 13 guns and $5,000.
"It's certainly not inconceivable that one of these guns smuggled across the border has already been used in a homicide," Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, recently told the Free Press. He noted there has been a disturbing wave of recent shootings in the city, man of them involving handguns.
This case provides rare insight into the flow of drugs and guns into Winnipeg, where gang violence and drive-by shootings have become frequent events in recent months. Several cases -- such as this summer’s shooting at a Winnipeg wedding reception that left an innocent bystander dead -- remain unsolved.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.