A North State man made international news when he was convicted of a multi-million dollar drug smuggling bust in the 1980’s.
On Tuesday, Stephen Arrington was one of 64 people pardoned by President Obama.
Sitting in his Paradise home, Arrington is beaming with excitement. “I have been pardoned by god but I wanted to be pardoned by my country and that happened yesterday,” Arrington said.
The 68-year old says he finally got the phone call from Washington D.C. he had been waiting for nine years, a Presidential pardon.
“I had to work not to cry,” Arrington said.
This now husband and father of three has a story nothing short of a Hollywood film. In the late 1970’s, Arrington was part of an elite Naval bomb team. He says he eventually got into marijuana that led him from one mistake to the next.
“I got caught. It ended my naval career. I had a critical nuclear top secret clearance and I lost that,” Arrington said.
His marijuana incident was exploited and later led to coercion. A job by a multimillionaire introduced him to someone that would change his life, Max Mermelstein, the number one man in the United States for Colombia’s largest drug cartel.
Arrington said he was then faced with two choices, smuggle drugs or die, “I was told straight forward it’s pretty simple, you’re a pretty smart guy, its called silver or led. Get in the airplane and co-pilot to Colombia or take a bullet to the head…I lost control of my life.”
On October 18th, 1982, Arrignton was busted at the Van Nuys Airport trying to smuggle 24 million dollars worth of cocaine.
He says the moment DEA agents caught him, he was rescued from a life that was spiralling out of control.
Arrington’s case made international news when famed auto-maker John DeLoreon was also arrested in connection, but never convicted. In prison, Arrington knew he had to turn his life around.
“I didn’t think my life was worth anything but I made a commitment to do good for the rest of my life. And from that point on continuous miracles happened to me and they escalated to better things,” Arrington said.
Those better things led to a dream job as a chief diver and expedition leader for legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. For five and a half years, Arrington traveled the world diving with whales, dolphins and sharks. His story led him to spread his message across the country, “my message is hope that never surrenders.”
In 28 years Arrington has reached 800,000 kids and young adults across 49 states as an anti-drug, anti-bullying advocate.
“I want them to know their mind and body is their adventure machine and all the adventure they can acquire is in their mind and body. You don’t need a fast car- you don’t need a motorcycle- someone who is athletic,” Arrington said.
He says he can get kids and young adults to listen to his stories, “I can talk to them about real things. I can talk to them about prison- I can talk to them about the Medellin drug cartel, I can talk to them about hitmen, prison and how scary it is.”
Even though Arrington travels the country with his story- this is home- over looking Feather River Canyon. He wants to share his story to kids and families in is own backyard. “This is where I live, I live in the North State. I want to speak to schools, I want to speak to organizations. I want to speak to clubs-I want to reach as many young people as I can.”
Arrington says a pardon is something to be earned. and this is just the next chapter in his story.
“A lot of people do nothing at all with a pardon. They get their pardon and they go ‘oh fine.’ But now I’m a whole new United States citizen.”