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Canadian gets 20 months for gun smuggling

GRAND FORKS -- Two men who pleaded guilty to smuggling guns to Canada after being arrested in Grand Forks were sentenced last month to federal prison.

But his stepmother said undercover Mounties posing as Hell’s Angels intimidated Shawn Hartnell for months to do a gun deal.

Hartnell, 30, was sentenced Oct. 17 to 20 months in federal prison, followed by two years of probation, with credit for the nine months he’s served since his Feb. 5 arrest in Grand Forks.

His associate, Dylan Dowton, 20, of Jerome, Idaho, was sentenced to six months.

The men were caught in a sting at the Settle Inn in Grand Forks motel in February. Royal Canadian Mounted Police posing as Canadian smugglers paid Hartnell $24,000 in cash for six semiautomatic guns — four rifles and two handguns — they said they were going to sneak across the border. Agents of the Department of Homeland Security also were in on the sting.

Hartnell is a Canadian citizen from Fort Frances, Ont., and allegedly had done previous gun deals with RCMP agents in Winnipeg.

Dowton and Hartnell met working in North Dakota’s oilfields.

Last summer, they pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally export U.S. guns into Canada, where stricter gun laws make them worth more.

Dowton pleaded guilty to aiding a noncitizen illegally obtain firearms.

Prosecutors say Hartnell last year wired Dowton $10,000 to buy six guns in Idaho and meet him in Grand Forks.

Dowton initially was allowed to return to his home in Idaho but later was charged.


Hartnell’s stepmother, Dorothy Leininger, of Fort Frances, across the border from International Falls, Minn., said in an interview Monday he was a victim of overzealous RCMP agents who pressured him for months to do a gun deal.

Leininger said Hartnell was “a country boy,” who grew up in Rainy River, Ont., near Baudette, Minn., before the family moved to Fort Frances, and had never been in trouble.

She read a statement at his sentencing hearing last month in Fargo and said 16 others attended to show support.

Hartnell has worked in the oilfields as a highly paid consultant since he was 19, working in several countries, she said.

“He didn’t need the money,” she said.

Mounties posing as Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members tracked him to Sweden and struck up talk with him on the flight home about needing guns, she said.

“Nobody in our family is saying he doesn’t have some culpability in this,” Leininger said. But the Mounties pressured her stepson for months to do the deal, she said.

The prosecution’s account of the wiring of $10,000 wasn’t factual, she said.

“I wired that money,” she said, describing how Hartnell, working in West Virginia a year ago, told her Dowton needed a loan and asked her to arrange for his bank to wire Dowton the money.

“Shawn was always loaning people money.”

Hartnell still faces firearms-related charges in Manitoba but she hopes they may be dropped now that he’s been sentenced here for the Grand Forks deal, Leininger said.