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Probert gets three months in prison on drug count

By JAMES R. CAMPBELL

DETROIT -- A federal judge Tuesday sentenced former Detroit Red Wings forward Bob Probert to three months in prison and three years of supervised release for smuggling 14-grams of cocaine from Canada last March.

U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan pronounced sentence after pleas for leniency from a remorseful Probert, Red Wings coach Jacques Demers, general manger Jimmy Devellano, owner Michael Ilitch and people directing Probert's rehabilitation.

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Duggan, rejecting probation, ordered the burly, 24-year-old to begin prison time Nov. 7. Probert pleaded guilty July 18 to one count of importing cocaine, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The government recommended six to 12 months imprisonment, a $2,000 fine and two to three years of supervised release.

'You know I don't want to be incarcerated,' Probert told Duggan. 'I want to have a choice and prove to you and myself and to the people who stood behind me in this ordeal that I can be a positive role model for young kids and that I am committed to a life of sobriety.'

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A notorious brawler on and off the ice, Probert wore a muted gray double-breasted suit and struggled with a breaking voice to tell of letting down his family, the hockey club and his teammates. Several players were in the packed courtroom.

'I am impressed with the progress he has made and I am impressed and gratified with the information I've heard today,' Duggan said. 'Nevertheless I believe a defendant should not be treated differently, either more or less, depending on who he is.'

Supervised release will begin with three months of community confinement at an institution designated by the court, which could be a rehabilitation center. He must pay a $2,000 fine and $1,210 per month for time in prison. During supervised release Probert must submit to regular drug testing.

The sentence ordered by Duggan includes four months' credit for Probert's time at the Holly Gardens rehabiltation center in Holly, Mich.

The Windsor, Ont., native still faces a hearing Oct. 26 by the U.S. Immigration Department, which has ordered him deported. The National Hockey League expelled him three days after his arrest at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

As he left the federal courthouse Tuesday, Probert stopped to sign autographs for guards.

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He entered Holly Gardens after being released on bond in March. He has done manual labor there, and gone outside under supervision to speak to youth groups about dangers of substance abuse.

When he saw Probert at Holly recently, Demers said, 'I saw the Bob Probert I knew two years ago. He looked me in the eye. He told me he had a problem and wanted to do something about it.

'I used to call him the big friendly giant,' Demers said. 'The support of his teammates today shows he is well respected as a person.'

Demers said his own father was an alcoholic and he tried to warn Probert, who had lost his father at 15 and was drinking heavily.

'We got a little religious together,' Demers said. 'I gave him a prayer. He said he really needed it.'

Then in the last year, Demers said, 'I thought I'd totally lost him. What happened March 2, I was devastated by it.'

Devellano, who drafted Probert at age 18, said the arrest may have been a blessing.

'We could not help Bob,' he said. 'He could not help himself.'

Like Demers, he saw a dramatic turnaround in Probert, 'first of all as a person. The hockey is secondary to us. You really are dealing with a decent person.'

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Ilitch, owner of Little Caesars Pizza Enterprises Inc., said he had taken Probert to his company offices for talks and 'saw a diamond in the rough as far as a person who can make something of his life.'

While the hockey life of any player is relatively short, Ilitch said, 'I believe in the case of Bob Probert, if he is given an opportunity to continue rehabilitation, he can make something of himself beyond hockey.'

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