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WDAY: The News Leader

Published October 22, 2009, 11:37 AM

Canadian man sentenced in gun-smuggling scheme

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Canadian man was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison for buying about two dozen handguns that were smuggled into Canada by two North Dakota college students who traded the pistols for cash and drugs.

By: JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Canadian man was sentenced Thursday to nearly five years in prison for buying about two dozen handguns that were smuggled into Canada by two North Dakota college students who traded the pistols for cash and drugs.

Gokhan Ozturk of Winnipeg, who also goes by the name Shane Gokhan, was sentenced on federal charges of conspiracy to export firearms and conspiracy to distribute the drug Ecstasy. He had pleaded guilty in August.

"I've added to the corruption of society," Ozturk, 23, told U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland. "I was feeding that fire."

Ozturk was given a 57-month sentence with credit for nine months already served. Under federal guidelines requiring an inmate to serve 85 percent of a sentence, he could be free in about three years, said his attorney, Joshua Lowther of Savannah, Ga.

Hovland told Ozturk that he could have more time cut from his sentence if he cooperates with U.S. and Canadian authorities in their ongoing investigation.

"I'll be home in no time," a shackled Ozturk told tearful family members before being led out of the courtroom.

Prosecutors said two former Minot State University students drove to Canada and back with drugs and guns stashed in the dashboards of their vehicles, trading the firearms for cash and Ecstasy between December 2007 and spring 2008.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hagler said 22 guns, purchased at pawn shops and gun retailers in the Minot area, were smuggled into Canada. Three have been recovered, he said.

Prosecutors have said about 1,800 tablets of Ecstasy came south.

Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said the illegal pistols in the Canadian city add to the growing gang violence there. He also said the case also points to gaps in security along the U.S.-Canada border.

"They exploited the market, no doubt about it," Sutherland said. "These college students flew below the radar and were able to do this rather easily."

Ozturk, who worked as a concert promoter, told Hovland he met Minot State students Thomas Scher and Curtis Rolle at a Winnipeg bar. Ozturk said the trio discussed the ease of obtaining guns in the U.S. and drugs in Canada and moving them over the border.

"It just basically hatched from there," Ozturk told the judge. He considered the scheme "an easy way to make money."

Prosecutors said Scher and Rolle made between eight and 10 trips to Winnipeg, bringing two to three guns at a time.

Hagler said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives got suspicious of Rolle after noticing the number of federal forms he had filled out for purchasing 9 mm semiautomatic handguns. Scher could not legally buy a gun in the U.S. because he is a Canadian citizen, Hagler said.

Scher and Rolle were arrested in December 2008 in Minot. Rolle, 23, of West Fargo, and Scher, 20, of Winnipeg, were sentenced earlier this year to one year and one day in prison on drug conspiracy charges.

Authorities enlisted Scher's help to nab Ozturk, who was lured to Minot from Winnipeg with the promise of $5,000 and 13 firearms in exchange for 10,000 tablets of Ecstasy.

Ozturk was arrested by ATF agents on Jan. 22 after discussing the deal and showing an undercover agent samples of the drug.

Ozturk told the judge he planned to take college classes in prison.

"I will do something positive with my life after this," he said. He also told the judge he planned to write a book about his crime.

"Send me a copy," Hovland said.

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