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News / Churches & Religion

Federal court tosses former pastor John Bishop’s appeal

Former Vancouver pastor sought review of five-year sentence for drug smuggling

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: September 24, 2019, 6:04am

A federal appeals court has dismissed a petition by former Living Hope Church pastor John Bishop to review his federal drug-smuggling sentence.

The dismissal order, entered Friday, comes after the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that Bishop waived his right “to appeal and to collaterally attack every aspect of the conviction and sentence,” the government’s motion reads. Bishop’s only recourse, according to the government, is to argue ineffective assistance of counsel, which may not be filed on direct appeal, as he did.

U.S. Circuit Senior Judges A. Wallace Tashima and Joseph Jerome Farris and Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen dismissed the appeal but remanded the case to U.S. District Court to modify some conditions of Bishop’s upcoming supervised release.

In December, Bishop, 56, announced in a handwritten letter his intent to appeal his sentence. The letter didn’t explain the grounds for his appeal, and his opening brief, which presumably contained those details, was filed under seal, meaning it’s unavailable to the public.

However, in its motion to dismiss the appeal, filed Aug. 26, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California addressed Bishop’s argument.

Bishop apparently claimed his attorney provided ineffective assistance because he didn’t challenge the quantity of marijuana Bishop smuggled, which triggered his five-year mandatory minimum sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s motion.

Bishop was arrested in December 2017 for attempting to smuggle more than 280 pounds of marijuana into the United States from Mexico — nearly 60 pounds more than the 100-kilogram threshold that triggers a mandatory minimum prison sentence.

He later pleaded guilty and, after a number of contentious hearings, was sentenced the day before Thanksgiving. He is being housed at the medium security Federal Correctional Institution in Florence, Colo., and is set to be released Dec. 29, 2022.

In his appeal, Bishop blamed some of the drug weight on packaging materials, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s motion.

The story of how the former Vancouver pastor became a convicted drug smuggler was detailed in a series of Columbian stories published in September 2018. 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.”