30-year run ends in house arrest

A combination photograph shows Ian Jackson MacDonald pictured in 1980 (left) and in 2011 (R) in...

A combination photograph shows Ian Jackson MacDonald pictured in 1980 (left) and in 2011 (R) in these U.S. Marshals photographs released to Reuters on January 12, 2011.

DEAN PRITCHARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Ian "Whitey" Macdonald outran the law for more than 30 years.

Now 73 years old and plagued by a myriad of health problems, Macdonald's days of running are long over.

On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to import marijuana and was sentenced to two years house arrest.

In 1979, the former Winnipeger was the key player in a Florida-based marijuana smuggling operation that also included, prosecutors say, then-Manitoba MLA Bob Wilson.

Winnipeg police and RCMP formed a task force, called Operation Enterprise, targeting the group's activities. Macdonald was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1980 on a warrant issued from Winnipeg.

He escaped custody after feigning a heart attack and being taken to hospital. Florida police finally rearrested him last year.

"This is a historic day," Crown attorney Ian Mahon said Wednesday. "This is Operation Enterprise, after 32 years, finally coming to an end."

Court heard Macdonald moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1976 and opened a yacht business. Before long, he had a more lucrative sideline as point man in a cross-border dope-smuggling operation.

Another Winnipeger, William Wright, met Macdonald while on vacation in Florida in 1978. According to an agreed statement of facts, "their discussions quickly turned to Macdonald's ability to provide large quantities of marijuana for shipment to Manitoba."

Police surveillance and wiretaps caught Wright agreeing to purchase 66 pounds of marijuana from Macdonald. On another visit, Macdonald convinced Wright to purchase 200 pounds of weed for $96,000.

According to the agreed statement of facts, the men later met at Wilson's Winnipeg home, where all three discussed a deal to fly 500 pounds of marijuana to a location north of Winnipeg.

Wright was later arrested following a return trip to Canada and agreed to co-operate with police in return for immunity from prosecution.

Wilson was sentenced in 1980 to seven years in prison for his role in the operation. He has always maintained his innocence.

Macdonald was visibly frail as he was brought into court in a wheelchair. Court heard his health problems include diabetes, prostate cancer and heart disease.

Macdonald's sentence was the result of a plea bargain that took into account his age and failing health, and the complexities of prosecuting such an old case.

Macdonald's arrest reunited him with two daughters and a son he hadn't seen or talked to since his jail escape.

"They are my buddies," Macdonald said Wednesday as his daughters picked him up from the Remand Centre. "Thank God we are all here together again. We are going to have a family again."

dean.pritchard@sunmedia.ca


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