BLAINE, Wash. - The three green and white government SUVs parked nearby and the surveillance camera perched atop a 50-foot pole are the first tip-off that the Smuggler's Inn in Blaine, Wash., may cater to a more notorious clientele than adventure-seeking tourists.
Five minutes and five stories later, it becomes obvious why owner Bob Boule likes to play up his Victorian-style bed and breakfast as a Prohibition-era hangout for bootleggers, complete with rooms named after famous gangsters.
If crossing into B.C. with a duffle bag full of cocaine is your purpose, then it doesn't get much easier than this. Take a few steps down Boule's backyard, cross Zero Avenue, and you're in Canada.
And people have certainly tried.
Last week, the media reported on the unlucky smuggler who got busted by U.S. Homeland Security agents after pulling up at the Smuggler's Inn in a black SUV bearing the licence plate SMUGLER.
The SUV belongs to Boule and is used to chauffeur guests.
According to court documents, Jasmin Klair, a British Columbian, became "nervous" and "agitated" when border agents, tipped off about a possible smuggling, questioned her on Boule's lawn last December. She was later found to be in possession of 10 kilograms of cocaine.
Klair played ball with investigators and kept in contact with two other men involved in the ill-fated plan, who were arrested later that night when they crossed over onto the U.S. side in search of the drugs.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dozens of crossings Boule says he has witnessed from the comfort of his front porch since opening for business back in 2003. And it's not just people trying to get a slice of the billion-dollar drug pie.
"There are very few days when you don't see three (crossings) in a row," Boule says, Greek fisherman's cap firmly on head. "There have been so many of them."
Like the time he was having coffee on his porch and a truck drove down through his yard onto Zero Avenue and then zipped away. He suspects the truck was loaded with what Hollywood coke king Tony Montana referred to as the Yayo.
It's also quite common, he adds, to have guests suddenly disappear during their stay. And then there are, of course, the strange phone calls inquiring about a different kind of smuggling.
"They'll say, 'We want you to smuggle someone into Canada,'" he says. "And I say, 'That's not what we do.'"
Then, there are the downright silly cases, like the teacher who was staying with them who had too much to drink one night.
"She flipped off the border patrol and then ran to the Canadian side," says Boule. "Then the RCMP came and she had to decide (which side would punish her). She came back and got a felony from border patrol."
While some of the stories are delivered with a bit of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, there are documented attempted-smuggling cases that lend authenticity to the inn's name.
Last year, Maleek James, 35, of Tacoma, Wash., was convicted on multiple drug charges for his part in smuggling 26 kilograms of ecstasy from Canada across the U.S. border. The pickup spot for the drugs was near the Smuggler's Inn.
The previous year, U.S. authorities busted Surrey, B.C., resident Shah Waliullah, 32, who was destined for the Smuggler's Inn in possession of nine kilograms of cocaine.
Surrey resident Gurmit Singh Jassal, 31, was arrested in 2008 after authorities spotted him crossing the border on foot and heading to the Smuggler's Inn. His luggage included four duffel bags full of pot and ecstasy.
And in 2004, border patrol agents busted a Surrey cab driver who had been staying at the inn for allegedly facilitating an immigration run from Canada into the U.S.
U.S. authorities contacted by The Province wouldn't comment specifically on the inn or the number of illegal crossings in a particular area.
Border Patrol authorities responsible for the Blaine Sector, however, said they arrested 591 people trying to illegally enter the U.S. during the last fiscal year.
In terms of drug seizures, 20 kilograms of B.C. marijuana, 42 kilograms of cocaine and about 312 grams of heroin were confiscated by border patrol officers over that same period. And that's only a fraction of what some think gets through.
Boule says he makes sure his guests know about all this smuggling activity when bunking down for the night. In fact, he says, he supplies them with a pair of night-vision goggles should they want to try their luck at sighting a smuggler.
Every once in a while, he'll get an excited guest swearing they've just witnessed an illegal crossing.
"But 99 per cent of the time, it's the agents they see going through the yard," he says.
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