Earlier this year, an alleged drug kingpin showed up at the law office of James L. White, a criminal defense attorney and part-time Edmonds...

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Earlier this year, an alleged drug kingpin showed up at the law office of James L. White, a criminal defense attorney and part-time Edmonds Municipal Court judge, and handed him a backpack filled with $100,000 cash.

White then gave two cash payments of $10,000 each to his friend and fellow attorney, A. Mark Vanderveen, as a legal retainer to defend a man arrested in an international multimillion-dollar drug case. White left one of the payments for Vanderveen in a paper bag at the Edmonds Municipal Courthouse.

The payments set in motion a string of events that resulted in both respected attorneys pleading guilty yesterday to federal charges in connection with the money, which prosecutors say were the proceeds from cocaine and marijuana sales by a major drug ring.

White, 49, pleaded guilty to money-laundering, admitting he knew the $100,000 he received was drug money.

Vanderveen, 45, pleaded guilty to failing to file a currency transaction report with the Internal Revenue Service for the $20,000 in cash he received from White.

The Washington State Bar Association is expected to petition the state Supreme Court for immediate suspensions of the men’s law licenses.

White has worked as a part-time Edmonds Municipal Court judge since 2000, and ran unsuccessfully for state Supreme Court in 2004. He is also a former Edmonds city councilman.

Vanderveen is a former Snohomish County deputy prosecutor who sometimes hears cases as a judge pro-tem in Edmonds Municipal Court.

According to federal prosecutors, White said he received $100,000 from Robert V. Kesling, the suspected mastermind of an international drug ring that traded and distributed large quantities of Colombian cocaine and Canadian marijuana.

The money may have been for future legal services, but instead of depositing the cash in a bank — which would have required White to report it to the IRS — he hid it in his Edmonds house, according to court documents.

“If a guy comes to you and asks you to defend him in a drug case and gives you $100,000 in a backpack, common sense says you should explore the source of the money,” said Doug Whalley, the U.S. district attorney who heads the criminal-enterprises unit that is handling the drug case against Kesling and two other men.

White’s attorney, Mark Mestel, said his client has resigned his judgeship and is no longer accepting new clients.

“He absolutely made a mistake and that’s why he pleaded guilty today,” Mestel said after a plea hearing yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle. “To say that it’s devastating would only come close to saying the kind of effect it’s had on him and his family.”

As for Vanderveen, the government had no evidence he knew the $20,000 he received from White was obtained through criminal activity, Whalley said. The money was a retainer for the defense of Wesley Cornett, who the government claims delivered drugs for Kesling.

“He acknowledges he made a mistake [in not reporting the money to the government] … and it’s his intent to do everything in his power to make things right from this point forward,” said Vanderveen’s attorney, Robert Chadwell.

Cornett, 27, and co-defendant Douglas Spink, 34, were alleged couriers for Kesling, 26, a Seattle man who is the suspected manager and organizer of a 3-year-old drug ring.

Spink was arrested Feb. 28 in Monroe with about 328 pounds of cocaine, worth nearly $3 million. Spink is a former Portland businessman who prospered as a mergers-and-acquisitions entrepreneur during the height of the technology boom but went bankrupt in 2002, according to a June 17 story in The Oregonian.

Shortly before he was arrested, Spink received five suitcases containing the cocaine from Cornett in an Everett parking lot. The government has alleged the drugs belonged to Kesling.

Spink, who has been in federal custody since his arrest, has pleaded guilty to one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, according to court documents. Cornett, of Edmonds, is also in custody and has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana charge.

Kesling, meanwhile, is expected to stand trial in November. Arrested May 10, Kesling faces five charges: conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana; conspiracy to import marijuana; conspiracy to export cocaine; possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

White could face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Vanderveen could face five years and a $250,000 fine.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office will recommend that Vanderveen, of Shoreline, be sentenced to up to six months in federal prison. For White, the government’s recommendation of a 2- to 2 ½-year prison term could be reduced if he cooperates in an investigation of others suspects. Prosecutors declined to elaborate.

A tentative sentencing date for both men was set for Dec. 2.

Edmonds Mayor Gary Haakenson said White resigned his municipal court judgeship about two weeks ago.

“He told me he was having some personal legal difficulties,” Haakenson said. “He felt it was best for me and the city that he should resign.

“I first met him 10 years ago when we were on the City Council together,” said Haakenson. “His moral character is above reproach. There’s nothing in his background that would give me any indication he would do something illegal.”

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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