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John Bishop sentencing in federal court set over, again

The former Vancouver pastor was supposed to be sentenced on drug smuggling charges

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor, and
, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

SAN DIEGO — Sentencing for former Vancouver pastor John Bishop was postponed again Monday in order to give him time to give another interview to authorities.

Bishop, 55, is now due to be sentenced on marijuana smuggling charges on Wednesday, Nov. 7 in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

He pleaded guilty earlier this year to attempting to smuggle nearly 300 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico and was poised Monday to go forward with sentencing. The story of how the pastor of Vancouver’s Living Hope Church ended up in federal custody was detailed in a series of Columbian stories published last week.

On Monday, Bishop entered a nearly empty courtroom on the 15th floor of a federal courthouse in San Diego clad in a green jumpsuit and sandals — having already been taken into custody Friday.

However, things took a turn when Chief U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz asked the defense if it wanted to explore the option of the former mega-church pastor participating in another interview with federal authorities regarding inconsistencies in his previous statements. Court went into recess to give Bishop’s court-appointed attorney, Matthew C. Binninger, time to discuss it with him.

20 Photos
Former Vancouver pastor John Bishop, left, arrives to be sentenced for unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana at the James M. Carter and Judith N Keep United States Courthouse in San Diego, Calif., on Friday morning, Sept. 21, 2018.
John Bishop in federal court Photo Gallery

When court resumed Monday afternoon, the parties agreed to push back sentencing until Nov. 7. Assistant U.S. Attorney Oleksandra Y. Johnson did not object.

Bishop was silent during Monday’s brief court proceedings except when he turned around and mouthed “I love you” to his estranged wife, Michelle Bishop, 55. She sat in the courtroom with their son David Bishop, 33.

John Bishop’s bond was revoked Friday, and he will remain in custody until sentencing. The sentencing now has been set over five times since its original date of May 11.

Bishop pleaded guilty Feb. 8 to a federal charge of unlawful importation of a controlled substance-marijuana, a felony that carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.

Bishop was hopeful about receiving a reduced prison sentence through the so-called Safety Valve provision, which allows for a sentence below the statutory minimum for certain nonviolent drug offenders with little to no criminal history.

However, his plea deal collapsed when new evidence showed he repeatedly had been untruthful with prosecutors and the FBI. How truthful he had been was debated during Friday’s proceedings.

Johnson said she received new evidence of his untruthfulness Friday morning — a Columbian article in which Bishop made statements two weeks ago that were inconsistent with what he said during his Safety Valve interview with authorities.

Bishop’s drug-smuggling case stems from his Dec. 11 arrest at the U.S.-Mexico border. He was stopped by federal officials at the border crossing from Tijuana, Mexico, to the San Diego suburb of San Ysidro, Calif. He was driving a gray 2014 Volkswagen, which contained 105 packages of marijuana concealed in the car’s bumpers, rear seat, dashboard and at least one wheel well.

Bishop told law enforcement that he had transported marijuana across the border 15 times since April 2016. But a review of Bishop’s border-crossing records shows he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in the Volkswagen more than 57 times between Jan. 24, 2017, and his arrest in December.

The rest of the story came out after the FBI obtained and reviewed more than 6,000 text messages he sent and received between April 1, 2016, and Dec. 11, 2017, the day he was arrested by federal officials.

He later told authorities he had actually smuggled marijuana into the country 18 to 20 times since April 2016, earning $50,000 doing so, according to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.

Court filings further allege Michelle Bishop and their son David were involved in the drug-running and that the Bishops spent the proceeds on things such as cruise vacations and a trip to a Disney theme park.

None of his family members have been charged with a federal crime.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith