Originally created 06/14/05

Drug trafficker gets 35-year term



A former FBI Top 10 fugitive who ran a multimillion-dollar international drug trafficking operation was sentenced in Augusta on Monday to 35 years in prison.

Because the sentence was imposed in federal court, James S. Springette, 45, will serve that prison sentence without the possibility of parole.

U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. also imposed a $4 million fine on Mr. Springette at the end of the daylong hearing, most of which was held behind closed doors.

Mr. Springette estimated he netted $33 million in the years he ran a cocaine trafficking operation between 1991 and 1999. He admitted in September 2003 that he funneled tons of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. mainland by way of the Virgin Islands.

According to previous testimony in federal court reported in The Augusta Chronicle, arrests of Augusta-area dealers led investigators to Mr. Springette's Caribbean network.

It was a huge operation involving airplanes, boats and even an ocean cargo freighter that was confiscated in 1996 with 6,000 kilograms of cocaine hidden on board. The operation also involved a shootout with British Virgin Islands police that blinded one officer who was shot in the eye.

Officers had tried to stop a van carrying more than 2 tons of cocaine, The Chronicle reported.

Mr. Springette was arrested for aiding in the prison escape of two Colombian citizens who reportedly took part in that shootout.

Mr. Springette, who was indicted on the federal charges in Augusta in 1998, escaped from a Colombian prison himself in March 2000.

He lived as a fugitive until his capture in Venezuela in November 2002.

Mr. Springette had faced a sentence of 30 years to life in prison without parole.

Considering the possibility of a life sentence, Mr. Springette and his attorneys were pleased with 35 years, said defense attorney Pete Theodocion.

Others involved in Mr. Springette's network received sentences of seven to 24 years in prison.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.