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Mon Valley smuggling suspects' paths differ

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 1:26 a.m.

Two Mid-Mon Valley residents facing federal drug charges appeared in for court Thursday in San Diego, but with contrasting results.

James Perry, 43, of Belle Vernon pleaded guilty to one felony count of importation of cocaine – aiding and abetting, and faces up to 20 years in prison, according to Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California.

Thornton could not say if that was a reduced charge. Prosecuting attorney Jennifer Gmitro was not available for comment.

Perry was returned to the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego. He is scheduled to appear for sentencing 9:30 a.m. May 20 before federal Judge Larry Alan Burns, Thornton said.

Meanwhile, Samantha Kurdilla, 22, of Rostraver Township pleaded not guilty after her attorney, William Winfield Brown, rejected a plea deal in the hopes any felony charge will be reduced.

Kurdilla – already in a rehabilitation program – has a motion hearing April 15 before Burns.

The indictment accuses her of “knowingly and intentionally import(ing) approximately 0.2 pounds of cocaine.”

“Short of a presidential pardon, there is no way to get rid of a felony conviction … and you are saddled with that the rest of your life,” said Brown, adding that a one felony makes a person basically unemployable.

“You just have to put enough mitigating facts together to convince a prosecutor that this person deserves something short of a felony. That's what we're shooting for.

“If we cannot convince the authority she is deserving of something other than a felony conviction, it will either be the exact same deal Mr. Perry got or something in the same neighborhood.”

Perry and Kurdilla were arrested Jan. 15 at the port of entry in San Ysidro, Calif., for allegedly concealing and transporting 100 grams of cocaine over the U.S.-Mexico border.

Perry later admitted he purchased the drugs in Mexico and convinced Kurdilla to conceal them inside her vaginal cavity while passing back over the border on foot, according to court documents.

The two appeared in court separately, in hearings 30 minutes apart Thursday.

Under one of the conditions of her bond, Kurdilla will continue in the Community Resources and Self Help program, Brown said.

It is a six-month program, said Brown, adding Kurdilla is “a very troubled young woman who is trying to get her life on the right path.”

“I had to fight to get her into CRASH, and Samantha is toeing the line and doing what she needs to do,” said Brown, adding Kurdilla was about to enter a rehabilitation center in western Pennsylvania three days before she “ended up on a plane” to California with Perry.

“The Samantha Kurdilla I saw a month ago and the one I saw today – and I haven't seen her in between – are two different people,” Brown said. “This program allows Samantha to keep her eye on the most important thing, her sobriety.”

Brown said he might need Perry's cooperation and assistance in trying to negotiate a nonfelony plea deal.

“They have a felony conviction, same offense, vastly different roles, and if there were other young women put in this situation, I'd love to hear from them,” Brown said.

“I would consider it a major success if Samantha can come out of this without a felony conviction, and I wish she could get some hometown support if and when she comes home.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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