U.S. authorities may move Whistler fugitive 

Daughter, students, friends writing letters of support

The daughter of a popular Whistler basketball coach is hoping reference letters she collects for her dad will shorten the five year sentence he is facing in a U.S federal prison.

"I’ve been collecting the letters," said Hana Pesut, who graduated from Whistler Secondary in 1999.

"I don’t know what will happen, but I hope this helps.

"It’s all been a bit overwhelming."

Pesut’s father Steven Iwami, known in Whistler as Steve Tanaka, was arrested last week outside of their Kitsilano home as a fugitive.

For the last 30 years he has been on the run from American justice after being convicted of cocaine trafficking in Chicago in 1972.

During that time he has become a revered and much loved girls’ basketball coach and has lived the life of a model citizen both in Whistler where he met Hana’s mom and lived for 26 years, and in the Lower Mainland.

Pesut, 20, who works for a non-profit organization in Vancouver hasn’t seen her dad since he was taken into custody and moved to the SeaTac Federal Detention Centre near Seattle.

"I’m just filling out the paperwork to see him," she said. "I’ve talked to him and he is good. He sounds good."

Pesut is anxious to get things organized as her dad may not be this close for much longer.

According to Iwami’s Seattle lawyer, Jim Vonasch, the Bureau of Prisons can move his client whenever they want.

And they don’t tell anyone about the move until it is over for security reasons.

Vonasch is waiting for Iwami’s records from Chicago.

"They are probably in some storage box somewhere," he said. Once he has seen the files he will decide what if anything he can do.

One piece of good news for Iwami is that his conviction falls under old sentencing provisions when prisoners usually served just one third of their sentence. So Iwami would be looking at serving 20 to 40 months rather than 60 months, said Vonasch.

"The reason we have been asking for letters of support... is that perhaps we can get the parole board to go for the lower sentence," he said.

Vonasch is also hoping officials placing Iwami will take into consideration where his family is and put him in a federal institution as close to Canada as possible.

"The nearest prison from here would be in Oregon and that is frequently where people are sent," said Vonasch.

"They will consider things like where his family is and sometimes you can negotiate with them a little bit, but obviously they’ll do what they want to do."

Iwami’s parents live in California. He also has three brothers living in the U.S.

He won’t be charged with skipping bail because the statute of limitations has expired.

Iwami has admitted to being involved with drugs but claims he wasn’t guilty of the particular charge he was convicted of, conspiring to import and distribute cocaine.

For the last 20 years he has worked as a fishing guide for high-profile clientele and coached basketball, his passion.

Chelsea McMullen, the captain of the Langley basketball team Iwami coached, the Brookswood Bobcats, recalls the dedication of her coach.

He bought supplies out of his own pocket and helped them get scholarships.

She is also writing a letter of reference.

"Mr. Tanaka (Iwami) needs lots of character reference letters and I know that I am going to write one and everyone is scrambling to write him letters because it may help him stay close to his family," she said.

McMullen and her teammates also plan to write him letters and hope to send him some videos of their games.

"All of B.C. is basically behind Mr. Tanaka (Iwami)," she said.

"We were at the ferry going to a tournament and we gave our letter to the ferry attendant saying we were from Brookswood Secondary and she said ‘win this one for the coach girls.’

"You just never expect it. The whole basketball community is behind him."

While McMullen doesn’t condone Iwami’s involvement with drugs she feels that he has reformed himself and is a model for others.

"He did make a mistake," she said. "But anyone can make that same mistake especially in the ’70s when drugs were a lot more visible.

"I just look at everything he has done for me personally and realize you cant judge someone based on a mistake alone.

"You couldn’t ask for a better person in the community or a better volunteer who is more committed and a lot of what he has done is derived out of what happened to him."

Letters of support can be sent to: Jim Vonasch, 526 — 1 st Avenue South, #321, Seattle, Washington, 98104, U.S.A.


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