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SAN FRANCISCO — A drug smuggler accused of importing thousands of pounds of Thai marijuana to Santa Rosa in the 1980s before fleeing and settling in Australia was sentenced Friday to three years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said her sentencing decision was “difficult,” noting that Peyton Eidson was now much older and suffering from health problems.

But she also said Eidson, 73, had escaped while co-defendants faced charges in the U.S., and he had a significant role in the drug operation.

Prosecutors said he traveled to Thailand in 1985 to arrange for the purchase of about 6,500 pounds of marijuana. They also accused him of involvement in trying to get another load of more than 40,000 pounds of marijuana into California.

Authorities arrested Eidson in August 1985 in Santa Rosa, where they seized more than a ton of marijuana from Thailand valued at $5 million. He fled after posting bail and obtaining a passport under a fake name, according to prosecutors.

The case embarrassed the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which raided the Santa Rosa home at the request of federal drug agents and arrested five men, including Eidson. The men were released because federal agents didn’t file charges on time. Sonoma County prosecutors could not file charges locally because they were not privy to key facts in the federal investigation.

Eidson lived in Australia under that name for about 25 years, operating a health and wellness retreat in Queensland before U.S. officials in 2011 discovered his real identity.

Australian police sent him back to the U.S. in 2017, and he pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to distribute marijuana and aggravated identity theft, prosecutors said.

Eidson appeared in court on Friday in a wheelchair and coughed frequently during the hearing. His attorney, Erick Guzman, said Eidson suffers from a lung disease that r equires access to an oxygen tank.

Eidson apologized for what he had done, and said he escaped the U.S. to avoid tearing up his family. His daughter, Maya, was in court and dabbed tears from her eyes as her father spoke.

“It is not the same world as 1985, and I am not the same person I was in 1985,” he said.

Guzman called for a two-year sentence, saying Eidson had spent decades in Australia “doing good” and was in poor health.

In court documents, Guzman cited a letter on Eidson’s behalf by Warren Entsch, a member of Australia’s parliament, who said Eidson has shown “outstanding character for all the years he has lived in our country.”

Australian officials have agreed to allow Eidson back into the country after he serves his prison term.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office called for an eight-year sentence, saying Eidson helped organize the smuggling operation by gathering investors, traveling to Thailand to buy the marijuana and obtaining a freighter in Panama to transport it.

“Without his participation, it’s fair to say that this conspiracy could not have succeeded,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Riebli said.

Eidson’s 48-year-old daughter, Maya, said bringing her father to the U.S. to face charges was excessive.

“He might have spent a few years on the wrong side of the fence, but he definitely tried really hard to make amends for all of that,” she said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse said in a statement after the sentencing that Eidson’s prosecution should send “a strong message to all fugitives of crime, and to the community, that the government will not give up just because time has passed.”

This story includes information from Press Democrat archives.

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