A Winnipeg fugitive made himself so invisible for 30 years that even his own children were convinced that he had died.
[Find out more about Ian Jackson MacDonald and Bob Wilson in this episode of CCN LIVE]
But Ian Jackson (Whitey) MacDonald was alive and well, living under an alias in Florida until the long arm of the law finally caught up to him last winter. Now MacDonald will get the opportunity to make up for lost time with his family, thanks to a plea deal that allows him to remain in the community under strict conditions.
MacDonald, 72, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to being the ringleader of an international marijuana smuggling operation that was busted in 1980. The frail-looking senior is battling a variety of ailments and has been told he likely won’t live more than three years.
MacDonald was given a two-years-less-a-day conditional sentence under a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers who cited “humanitarian” grounds. It’s a much lighter sentence than some of his co-accused got for playing much lesser roles.
“This case has some unique characteristics, not the least of which is its age,” Crown attorney Ian Mahon told court. “This is a plea bargain in the truest sense.”
MacDonald’s son and two daughters all live in California but have already made several trips to Winnipeg to visit him in custody since getting the news of his arrest. They truly believed he was gone, perhaps drowning in the ocean during one of his boating adventures he was known for.
“You could not make this story up,” said defence lawyer Sheldon Pinx.
The children plan to continue the visits now that he has been released. MacDonald will be under a 24-hour daily curfew but will be allowed to venture out into the community for up to four hours each day, provided he is with a family member.
“They want to now make up for these last 30 years,” said Pinx. “It’s been an extraordinary journey for Mr. MacDonald. He’s been forgiven by his family.”
MacDonald was first arrested in Florida in 1980 in a marijuana-smuggling scheme that saw former Manitoba provincial politician Bob Wilson convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. Several other co-accused were also arrested, including a drug courier busted at the Canada-U.S. border who eventually co-operated with police and brought down the entire operation.
MacDonald was described in court Wednesday as a “larger-than-life” figure who loved flying airplanes and driving his expensive yacht. He made criminal connections in Florida and spearheaded a series of deals in which he’d ship 33-pound bales of marijuana to Canada, using a network of associates. The drugs had been brought in from Colombia.
Following his arrest, MacDonald escaped custody a day after he complained of angina pains in what the Crown described Wednesday as a “faked heart attack.” He fled while the guard was preoccupied.
“The escape was fairly mundane,” Mahon told court Wednesday. He said the guard had gone to grab a bite to eat, giving MacDonald just enough time to flee his hospital room without detection.
It would be 30 years before police would find MacDonald in the Central Florida town of Homosassa where he was living with his wife, Angela, under the name Jack Hunter. They had previously spent many years living in rural Pennsylvania.
MacDonald was extradited from Florida earlier this year and has been held in the medical unit at the downtown Remand Centre ever since. He has been rushed to hospital on several occasions to deal with a variety of health issues which include cancer, heart problems and diabetes.
MacDonald is expected to now reside in a personal care facility, court was told. His second wife, a retired school teacher, has come to Winnipeg and will assist him.
“I’m really ashamed at myself for this whole thing,” he told Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey Wednesday. “You’ll never see me (in court) again.”
– Article from Winnipeg Free Press.