Friday, October 22, 2010

Canadian Wheelchair Curling Paralympian Pleads Guilty

I don't have much sympathy when celebrities break the law. But this story is sad, almost beyond belief. I admired Jim Armstrong when I saw him competing in the Canadian Brier Championship back in the 70s. I followed the story as he attempted to get certified to compete for Canada in wheelchair curling, and then I saw him play at Kinross last year, his team winning that International event. He then skipped the Canadian team which won Paralympic Gold in Vancouver.

When the story broke that he had been arrested, with his son, for smuggling counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs into the US and Canada, and had been selling these round the club scene in BC, I took the line 'innocent until proven guilty', see here. I found the story difficult to believe. The jokes apart, how could someone like Armstrong, a retired dentist, get involved in something like this, and in so doing bring the whole sport of wheelchair curling into disrepute by association? Their trial was to be next week.

The US Department of Justice Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington, released the following statement yesterday:


Counterfeit Drugs Shipped from China and India to Blaine Post Office, Distributed in Canada

JAMES PETER ARMSTRONG, 59, of Richmond B.C. Canada, and his son, GREGORY JAMES ARMSTRONG, 28, also of Richmond, B.C., pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to selling and dispensing counterfeit drugs with the intent to mislead or defraud. JAMES ARMSTRONG is a retired dentist and was a member of the Canadian Paralympic curling team. The men face up to three years in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on January 28, 2011.

According to the records filed in the case, on April 9, 2010, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in Los Angeles intercepted a package that had been sent from China containing 2,544 counterfeit pills of the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra and 260 pills of Cialis. The package was addressed to a mail box in Blaine, Washington near the Canada/ U.S. border. The mail box was used by both JAMES and GREGORY ARMSTRONG. The operators of the mail box store provided investigators with a long list of boxes that had arrived at the store for the ARMSTRONGs. Many of the packages came from China and India – countries where many counterfeit drugs are manufactured.

On April 15, 2010, JAMES ARMSTRONG was arrested outside the mail box store. He had picked up the package and examined the contents before leaving the store. GREGORY ARMSTRONG admits in his plea agreement that he distributed the drugs without a license to people who did not have a prescription.

Under the terms of the plea agreements, prosecutors will recommend that JAMES ARMSTRONG pay a $50,000 fine, perform community service hours and be sentenced to the time he already served in U.S. Custody. Prosecutors will recommend a sentence of a year and a day in prison for GREGORY ARMSTRONG. Judge Martinez is not bound by those recommendations."

It is sad. But I would imagine that there as those in the world of wheelchair curling, in disability sport in Canada, and in that country's Paralympic movement, who will be angry, rather than sad, at the whole business.

You can use the search facility on the Wheelchair Curling Blog to find out more about Jim Armstrong and his controversial involvement in wheelchair curling. In yesterday's post on that blog here, Eric Eales suggests that although Armstrong faces up to three years in prison, the plea agreement, which does not bind the sentencing judge, recommends that he be fined $50,000, perform community service hours and be sentenced to the time he already served in the US.

Armstrong's photo is by Hugh Stewart and was taken at the Kinross Wheelchair Curling International last season.