25 years later, 8,000 pounds of pot could get man 5 years

June 16, 2008 

COLUMBIA -- A former Beaufort

County man has pleaded guilty to smuggling more than four tons of marijuana and 15 tons of hash to Hilton Head Island between 1974 and 1983.

Robert Ashley Brunson, 59, formerly of Frogmore, admitted last week to playing a role in the drug rings broken up by "Operation Jackpot," an undercover operation in which more than 100 people were convicted of importing about $1 billion worth of drugs to the barrier islands of South Carolina in the 1970s and '80s.

Brunson was arrested last year trying to cross the border from Mexico to southern California with a fake passport after 25 years on the run, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Columbia.

He pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to import marijuana and hashish into the United States, and could face a fine of up to $15,000 and five years in prison, the release states. Brunson will be sentenced after a pre-sentencing report is finished, which generally takes at least a few months.

Brunson admitted that a co-conspirator, Leon Durwood Harvey, hired him, and two other individuals, Kenneth Wayne Gunn and Christopher Ward Campbell, to crew the sailboat "Love Affair" and bring about 8,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia to Hilton Head, according to the release. The boat was seized en route by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Brunson also admitted involvement in importing approximately 30,000 pounds of hashish from Lebanon to Hilton Head in June 1980. He was a lookout in a small boat in Calibogue Sound while a sailboat off-loaded. He also drove a truck containing hash to a stash house.

Brunson was arrested and his fingerprints linked him to the charges in South Carolina. He served 9 months for using a fictitious passport to enter the United States before being transferred to South Carolina.

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