A Canadian citizen will spend more than seven years in federal prison for smuggling guns from Montana into Lethbridge, Alberta.
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings sentenced Harley Clifford Combres, 29, to seven years and three months Wednesday, noting that his history of convictions and violations in Canada had done “absolutely nothing to deter him” from crime.
After serving his sentence, Combres will be referred to immigration officials for deportation. There is no parole in the federal system, but prisoners with good behavior usually serve 85 percent of their sentence.
Combres pleaded guilty in June to attempted illegal export for smuggling firearms from Montana to Alberta for resale. Combres, and his co-defendant, Caley Dawn Sinclair, 23, both of Lethbridge, were arrested in Billings on March 26 after they bought guns at a gun show in Billings.
Sinclair, who pleaded guilty to the same crime, was sentenced by Cebull in October to time served of 202 days. Although Sinclair faced up to 18 months in prison, Cebull gave her a break, saying she had no criminal record and was manipulated by Combres, her boyfriend.
Combres apologized for his behavior. “There is no excuse for it. It’s something that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I wish I would have made better choices,” he said.
Combres’ parents attended the sentencing. When his mother, Maureen Combres, became too emotional to read a statement, Assistant U.S. Federal Defender Steve Babcock read it for her.
“We apologize and beg for leniency. We love and support him,” she said in her statement.
But the judge was not lenient.
The Canadian criminal justice system had been “too soft” on Combres, Cebull said. Combres’ record included theft, assault and other violations. The longest Combres had been incarcerated in Canada was 317 days, he said.
“Time and again the courts in Canada did nothing other than slap him on the wrist,” Cebull said. The likelihood that Combres will re-offend is “extremely high unless he grows up and becomes something other than self-centered,” he said.
Because Combres’ record in Canada could not be counted in setting a guideline range, he faced a range of 46 months to 57 months. If his record had been included, Combres’ guideline range would have jumped to 87 months to 105 months.
Cebull used his discretion to sentence Combres to more time than the guideline range.
Babcock argued for a guideline term, saying that 57 months, or about four and a half years, was “not a slap on the wrist” and would be about eight times longer than Sinclair’s sentence.
Although Combres was more culpable, Sinclair was involved in every gun run, he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paulette Stewart recommended a 90-month sentence because of Combres’ record, the number of trips he made and the number of guns involved.
Combres made seven trips to the United States to buy guns to sell to gangs back in Canada, Stewart said in a sentencing brief.
Combres bought a total of 41 guns, 12 of which were confiscated when he and Sinclair were arrested. Twenty-nine firearms made it into Canada, and only two guns have been recovered, Stewart said.
One gun was found in Combres’ apartment and one gun was found in the apartment of a third defendant, Shawn Aaron Locke, of Lethbridge, who was charged in Canada.
Combres’ record prohibited him from coming to the United States, but he entered illegally by walking across the border.
Sinclair drove in legally and picked up Combres. The pair traveled to Lewistown, where they bought one gun, and then to Billings.
Combres bought 11 guns at a gun show, while Sinclair held the money and took some of the guns to the car, Stewart said.
The 12 firearms included seven 9 mm pistols, three .45-caliber pistols and two .380-caliber pistols.
The investigation was a joint effort by U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies.