Sentences upheld in Spice-smuggling convictions in S. Korea
SEOUL — A South Korean court upheld the sentences this week of two men convicted in what officials have called the largest-ever drug-smuggling ring involving the U.S. military here.
Pvt. Michael Lehmkuhl of the 2nd Infantry Division was sentenced in December to five years in prison for importing and selling synthetic marijuana. Former U.S. Forces Korea soldier Arin Bergquist got four years for selling and trafficking Spice and for marijuana possession.
A spokesman for the Seoul High Court said Lehmkuhl’s appeal was deemed groundless and determined his initial trial before the Seoul Central District Court was fair. Bergquist’s sentence was ruled fair according to court sentencing guidelines, the spokesman said.
Bergquist testified he made several orders for Spice on the Internet, then distributed it to Lehmkuhl and others to sell from August 2011 to January 2012. At least one package was delivered via military mail to Camp Casey; others went to the civilian Dongducheon Post Office.
Bergquist said he was discharged from the military in October 2011 and returned to South Korea on a tourist visa the following month to sell Spice.
In their trials, the names of at least half a dozen people, most apparently with links to the military, surfaced in connection to the smuggling ring. South Korean police said previously they were investigating 26 others, including 13 U.S. soldiers, for manufacturing, selling or using Spice in connection with the ring, though the military has not confirmed that.
The military and South Korean authorities have released little information about any other soldiers allegedly involved in the smuggling ring.
News of the smuggling ring sparked widespread criticism of USFK, with one politician condemning the Joint Military Mail Terminal as a “new drug-smuggling route.”