Traveling the world is Milenko Gordic's idea of living the dream.
At least it was until the Serbian's cross-country trek through the United States, a journey that took him along historic Route 66 and to several national parks – before ending with his arrest in Niagara Falls.
It was two days before Christmas and Gordic, a journalist chronicling his travels on social media, was carrying a .45 caliber pistol and admitted as much while crossing the Rainbow Bridge into Canada.
It seems Gordic didn't own the pistol – a friend in Texas gave it to him for protection – or know anything about the gun laws here.
On Monday, a federal judge listened to his four-month tale of woe – he ended up pleading guilty in January to a weapons charge – and spared him prison time.
"Yes, it's ended," the 24-year-old said through an interpreter Monday. "The big stone from my heart has been lifted."
Gordic's use of an old Serbian saying reflected his joy at seeing his run-in with the law over and, yet, he insists he never once thought he would go to prison.
In sentencing Gordic, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara rejected the prison term of up to 16 months called for in sentencing guidelines and suggested the defendant was an otherwise law-abiding person.
"I knew there was a problem but, knowing this is the country of love, I was confident this would be viewed as an honest mistake," Gordic said after his sentencing to time already served.
His problems began when an old Serbian boyhood friend now living in Texas gave him the pistol for protection. Gordic kept it with him as he traveled across the U.S., and no one knew he had it until he took a wrong turn while sightseeing in Niagara Falls and ended up on the Rainbow Bridge into Canada.
When he declared he had the gun – his lawyer says he never once hid it from authorities – Canadian border officials refused to admit him. He was arrested and charged after turning back and trying to re-enter the U.S.
For the next four months, he faced allegations of weapons possession and likely deportation and, yet, he claims he never lost faith in the justice system here.
"I have very positive feelings about this country," Gordic told Arcara at one point Monday, "and I would like to come back and visit."
"Without the gun," John F. Humann, an assistant federal public defender, added with a smile.
Gordic, who was here on a travel visa, faces likely deportation because of his felony conviction. He was scheduled to leave voluntarily Monday night but was forced to deal with one final ugly chapter in his stay here.
It turns out that Humann's car was broken into Sunday and much of Gordic's possessions, including notes, cameras and clothing, were stolen.
But even that hadn't deterred his optimism about Monday's court appearance.
"I know I'm a good person," he told a reporter, "and I know I didn't have any bad intentions."
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