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News / Churches & Religion

Government files motion to dismiss John Bishop’s appeal

Former Vancouver pastor was sentenced to 5 years for drug smuggling

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: September 3, 2019, 5:15pm

Can plastic and other materials used to wrap 105 packages of marijuana weigh more than 60 pounds? Former Living Hope Church pastor John Bishop apparently thinks so, and is using that as his argument to appeal his federal prison sentence.

Bishop, 56, argues his attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel because he didn’t challenge the quantity of marijuana he smuggled, which triggered his five-year mandatory minimum sentence, according to a motion to dismiss Bishop’s appeal filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In December, Bishop announced in a handwritten letter his intent to appeal his sentence to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The letter didn’t explain the grounds for his appeal, and his opening brief, which presumably contains those details, was filed under seal and is unavailable to the public.

However, in a motion filed Aug. 26, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California, sheds some light on his argument.

Bishop was arrested in December 2017 for attempting to smuggle more than 280 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico. He later pleaded guilty, and after a number of contentious hearings, was sentenced the day before Thanksgiving to five years in federal prison. He is being housed at the medium security Federal Correctional Institution in Florence, Colo., and is set to be released Dec. 29, 2022.

The story of how the former Vancouver pastor became a convicted drug smuggler was detailed in a series of Columbian stories published in September. Bishop was also featured in an April 19 Vanity Fair story called “The Church of Living Dangerously: How One of America’s Biggest Pastors Became a Drug Runner for a Mexican Cartel.”

In his plea agreement, Bishop admitted to attempting to smuggle more than 127 kilograms (281 pounds) of marijuana — nearly 60 pounds over the 100-kilogram threshold that triggers the mandatory minimum prison sentence.

“Bishop nonetheless contends that ‘there is serious doubt as to whether the net weight of Mr. Bishop’s marijuana was over the 100-kilogram weight that triggered a mandatory minimum sentence,'” the motion reads.

It’s inferred from the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s motion that Bishop blames some of the drug weight on packaging materials. The government argues Bishop “offers little to show a ‘substantial’ — let alone ‘conceivable’ likelihood — that the packaging in the 105 packages he imported weighed over 60 pounds,” according to the motion.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office references a Drug Enforcement Administration lab report that Bishop reportedly cited in his brief, contending a “single package was tested, with a gross weight of 955.8 grams and net weight of 600.2 grams.” But the government argues the report doesn’t show a single package was tested.

“Instead, it reflects that 11 separate samples were sent for testing. … Only an extracted sample was sent to the drug analysis lab. Those samples were sent over in ‘multilayered wrappings’ and ’10 zip lock plastic bags.’ Nothing suggests that the gross and net weights on the report approximate the weight proportion of packaging to drugs for one full package or that the zip lock baggies were part of the packaging that Bishop imported,” the motion reads.

Further, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argues that Bishop’s appeal should be dismissed because he waived his right to appeal and challenge his sentence. The only exception that applies to Bishop, according to the government, is to argue ineffective assistance of counsel, which may not be filed on direct appeal as he’s done.

The government’s motion has not yet been addressed, according to the court record.