Patton Eidson and his daughter Maya.
Patton Eidson and his daughter Maya.

‘Model citizen’ faces US jail term

AN ELDERLY former fugitive who led a double life as a health spa owner in the Atherton Tablelands for decades has been jailed for three years in the United States.

Patton Eidson, also known by the name Peyton, has been convicted for being the head of a major marijuana smuggling operation using an ocean-going freighter to ship 18,000kg loads of the drug from Thailand to the US in the 1980s.

Eidson and his late-wife, Sonja, fled for Australia on fake US passports in 1986 after he was arrested and released on bail, eventually ending up in Julatten where they ran a health spa and became beloved members of the community.

His true identity was discovered in 2011 and he finally returned to the US last year before pleading guilty in January to conspiring to distribute marijuana and aggravated identity theft.

The 74-year-old appeared in court on Friday in a wheelchair and coughed frequently during the hearing.

His lawyer, Erick Guzman, said Eidson suffered from a lung disease and required access to an oxygen tank.

Eidson apologised for what he had done and said he escaped the US to avoid tearing up his family.

His daughter, Maya, was in court and dabbed tears from her eyes as her father spoke.

"It is not the same world as 1985 and I am not the same person I was in 1985," he said.

Prosecutors had called for Eidson to receive an eight-year sentence while his lawyer called for a two-year sentence.

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch told the Cairns Post yesterday that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's offer to fast-track Eidson's readmittance to Australia would still stand once he was released from prison.

"I would hope and expect that, like in the Australian system, three years does not mean three years," he said.

"I hope they take into account the time he has already served, and his health.

"The offer we've made still stands, and that's not going to change."

Mr Entsch said he would be waiting with a bottle of wine when Eidson finally returned to Julatten.

"He is a thoroughly decent bloke," he said.

"We all have a past, and he is now paying a penalty for it.

"I think it's quite a significant penalty.

"He is an absolute model citizen."