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20 years later, elderly hash smuggler faces prison

66-year-old smuggler: I want to build a life out of this ‘failed one’
By LEVI PULKKINEN, SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF

 Defendant Lee Rushing has been sentenced to five years in prison for his role in a massive hashish smuggling operation. Rushing, who spent more than 15 years avoiding authorities, is expected to be transfered Bureau of Prisons custody in coming weeks. He will get credit for more than three years he has already spent in custody.

Twenty years after helping to smuggle 25 tons of hashish into Washington, an elderly man who spent nearly as long hiding in Europe will likely be sentenced to prison.

For having helped lead one of the most audacious drug smuggling operations in state history, Lee S. Rushing faces up to 12 ½ years in federal prison when he is sentenced Thursday morning in U.S. District Court at Tacoma.

Rushing was initially charged in 1997 during a prosecution that ultimately saw 23 other men indicted for their alleged involvement in the smuggling plot. While on the run, Rushing was able to live off several hidden bank accounts for another decade after fleeing the country.

In 1992, Rushing, co-defendant Frank Falco and several others, concocted a plan to ship 50,000 pounds of hashish from Pakistan to the Washington coast. There, they planned to transfer the marijuana derivative to a fishing boat, take it ashore and send it to New York City for distribution.

For their efforts, each of the conspirators expected to make a minimum of $2.5 million. Instead, at least four ended up in federal prison; Rushing will likely be the fifth.

In a letter to the court, Rushing described himself as an arrogant man who had to do things “’my way,’ the hard way.” He said he now realizes he gave up a large part of his life to avoid prison.

“While for some years I did manage to successfully avoid being locked ‘up,’ I did quite well succeed at the same time … in locking myself ‘out’ and cutting myself off of and away from everything which truly gives real meaning to life – family, friends, and community,” Rushing told the court.

“Realistically or not,” he continued, “it is now my greatest hope to be allowed to come in at long last from the cold, and to try to rebuild a more positive and productive life from the ashes of this, so far, failed one.”

Born to an Air Force family, Rushing was raised on military bases before joining the Navy, where he served as a junior officer in the late 1960s. After leaving the service, he held a series of low-skill jobs while running afoul of the law for offenses unspecified in court documents.

Rushing and the others pooled money to pay for the operation’s “start-up” costs, including the Kila Kila fishing boat and a pier in South Bend, a Pacific County town on Willapa Bay. The group fronted Rushing $200,000 for one ton of hashish to be purchased as a “good will gesture.”

According to prosecutors’ statements, Rushing was the man who found a hashish supplier in Pakistan and helped find a ship to take it halfway around the world.

The day of the operation, three fishing boats went out to meet the drug runner off the Washington coast. The hashish was loaded into the Kila Kila alone; the other boats were there in case of emergency.

Rushing then sold some of the hash, splitting the proceeds with the other men. All told, they were able to launder more than $2.5 million before they ran into trouble.

In court documents, the defendants admitted to sending five tons of hash to California and 10 to 15 tons to a warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. Police ultimately raided the New York “clearinghouse,” prompting Falco and at least three other conspirators to flee to Mexico.

Rushing stayed behind to continue selling the hashish so he could payoff his supplier. According to court documents, he was assisted by a man known as “Tom Terrific.”

By 1995, though, Rushing was ready to run.

Having been given 20 percent of the total hash haul and cash, Rushing sold what he could before fleeing to Europe. Prosecutors say he sunk some of the money in bank accounts and had the rest sent to him by courier.

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