A former Niagara Falls High School football player caught at the Rainbow Bridge trying to smuggle 20 handguns over the border was sentenced Friday to 3½ years in jail by an Ontario judge, local media reported.
Marquise T. Watkins, 30, had pleaded guilty to two counts of importing firearms into Canada in the 2018 incident, according to the Niagara Falls Review.
In sentencing Watkins, Superior Court Judge James Ramsay called illegal handguns "probably the most pressing criminal problem we're facing in Canada."
"They come over from the United States, brought over in small batches by people like the accused," Ramsay said, as reported by the Niagara Falls, Ont., newspaper.
The Canada Border Services Agency previously said Watkins was crossing the Rainbow Bridge on Oct. 16, 2018, from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Niagara Falls, Ont.
Watkins had said he was crossing the border to take his girlfriend to dinner, the Review reported, but he was referred to secondary inspection. An examination of Watkins' vehicle didn't turn anything up.
But officers working with a trained detector dog turned up 20 undeclared handguns concealed in a compartment in the vehicle, the agency said. The trove of prohibited and restricted weapons included Glock 9mm semi-automatic handguns and a Smith and Wesson .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
Watkins initially denied knowing about the weapons, according to the Review. He later said he knew some guns were in the car but insisted he wasn't aware of the details.
Watkins, then 28, faced several charges related to the weapons and his failure to declare them.
At the sentencing following his guilty plea, Ontario prosecutors sought a sentence of five years while the defense asked for four years.
With credit for the time Watkins spent in pretrial custody, he has another 14 months to serve, according to the Review.
Watkins was described in court as a talented football player in his native Niagara Falls, N.Y., who graduated from a college in West Virginia after receiving an athletic scholarship to attend school there.
The MaxPreps website said Watkins played varsity football for the Niagara Falls High School Wolverines in 2007 and 2008.
The Review said he was working at a non-profit agency at the time of his arrest, but further information wasn't immediately available.