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Arraignments set for suspects of cocaine on a plane PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 September 2017 12:39


• Leader & Times

Arraignments have now been set for the two suspects accused of landing a plane containing 144 pounds of cocaine in May at the Liberal airport.

Attorneys in the case heard from one witness Wednesday during a joint preliminary hearing before closing statements were made, but in cross examining Detective Jared Wagenseller of the Seward County Sheriff’s office, the lawyers for Patrick Williams and Ricardo Lopez found some holes in the affidavit submitted by the detective.

Before the cross examination, however, prosecutor Russell Hasenbank questioned Wagenseller, who said on the night of May 10, he was performing a ramp check on the plane, later determined to be that of Williams, 51, of Tempe, Ariz.

Wagenseller testified he asked Williams for his medical card, ID and pilot’s license. He said during the investigation, it was found that Williams had a passenger on the plane, 26-year-old Ricardo Lopez of Rio Ricardo, Ariz.

Hasenbank asked Wagenseller if he had asked for consent to search the plane, and after an objection by Lopez’s attorney, Derek Miller, the detective said the pilot had given him consent to search.

Later, Wagenseller said through his search, he found substances including cocaine, heroin and pheticol. He said he found 52 bundles with no Kansas drug tax stamp. The bundles, he said, included packaging, and Wagenseller also found luggage and personal paraphernalia.

Hasenbank then asked Wagenseller if the evidence had been sent to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for testing. Before the detective answered, Miller objected to the admissability of the answer to the question, saying case law needed to be provided to prove admissibility. Hasenbank said proper protocol had been followed, and Judge Margaret Alford overruled. Wagenseller then said the evidence was sent to KBI for testing.

Miller was the first of the defense attorneys to question Wagenseller, and he began by inquiring why the detective had filed two affidavits in the case. Wagenseller said one of the reports was filed prior to the KBI’s report on the findings of the evidence, and the second was filed afterwards.

Wagenseller said he was initially at the airport by himself before being joined by other deputies, and he approached Williams, telling the pilot he was going to do a ramp inspection, noting he thought it was odd how the plane was parked on the taxiway at the airport.

Miller then asked Wagenseller if he had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to search the plane, and the detective said reasonable suspicion was in place, stating further he did not know what was on the plane.

Through further questioning, Miller found Wagenseller had no recording device and no drug dog present at the scene. The detective said he had tried to call for a dog, but none was available.

Wagenseller further testified that there were bags belonging to both Williams and Lopez, asking both suspects for consent to search the bags. He said Williams said some of the bags were not his, but gave Wagenseller to search those bags. The detective further noted Lopez did not give consent to search.

Despite not having consent from Lopez, Wagenseller said he went forth with the search due to an incident involving tripping over one of the bags as he was getting on to the plane. He said he knew the bag was heavy because it didn’t move when he tripped over it, and at that time, he knew illegal narcotics were in the bag.

Miller questioned Wagenseller about being able to feel a piece of luggage and knowing there were drugs inside, as he seemed not to believe the detective’s testimony.

Wagenseller said he opened a suitcase with a pocket knife, and after testifying that it was reasonable suspicion that caused him to want to search the scene, Miller asked the detective why one of his affidavits was based on probable cause. Wagenseller said as the search continued, probable cause developed.

Asked why he could not have obtained a search warrant, Wagenseller said doing so may have enabled the suspects to escape in the plane.

Miller continued to question Wagenseller about the lack of a search warrant, saying he cut into Lopez’s luggage without consent. Wagenseller continued to point to probable cause, saying he found heroine, cocaine and fentonyl packaged in plastic wrap.

Miller would later ask the detective why no fingerprint tests were run on the luggage, and Wagenseller said it was because his fingerprints, along with the suspects, would be found.

“You could’ve done it?” Miller asked.

“I don’t have an answer, but we didn’t do it,” Wagenseller replied.

Miller then questioned the detective as to why the drugs found were destroyed following the arrests of Lopez and Williams. Wagenseller said as little of two grams of fentonyl could kill a person within minutes, and after the fentonyl was found, all of the drugs were destroyed.

Williams’ attorney, Paul Kitzke, then questioned Wagenseller, first noting that the detective had gotten consent from Williams go search all of the bags but Kitzke’s client.

Kitzke said Williams had told Wagenseller that he knew his rights and did not want his bag searched, revisiting the probable cause issue. The detective did say he had talked to the KBI, as well as Hasenbank himself, to see if he had enough cause to search the bags.

“You wanted to know if you had probable cause to open it?” Kitzke said. Wagenseller simply said “Yes.”

Williams’ attorney then asked the detective if, based on what he felt, the suspects would be arrested, following which Kitzke asked Wagenseller if that was the case, why were Williams and Lopez considered not free to go. The attorney further stated the suspects were going to be in Wagenseller’s custody no matter where the search was done.

After questioning Wagenseller, the three attorneys made closing statements. Hasenbank said the amount of cocaine found on the plane was above the legal limit and asked that the suspects be bound over on multiple charges.

Miller continued to emphasize that the search to find the drugs was done illegally and that just because Williams gave Wagenseller consent to search the plane did not mean he could search the bags. Miller called for dismissal of the case.

Kitzke likewise called for dismissal of the case, first saying it was a sensational case he believed should be suppressed. He said he believes Wagenseller made mistakes, got excited when he found what Kitzke called the “mother load.” Despite this, Kitzke said protocol still needs to be followed.

“If drugs were found in a duffle bag or on the plane and it’s allowed to be searched, I have no problem,” Kitzke said, further agreeing with Miller’s statement that consent to search the plane does not mean consent to search the bags.

Alford said the testimony given Wednesday was conflicting, and it was a tough preliminary hearing. She said she knew a motion to suppress would be filed, but she believed probable cause was the key issue in the case.

Williams is scheduled to be arraigned at 11 a.m. Sept. 28, and Lopez is set for arraignment at 9 a.m. Oct. 13, both in Seward County District Court.

Both suspects face one charge each of the following counts:

1. Distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance

2. Conspiracy to commit distribution or possession of with the intent to distribute a controlled substance

3. Possession of drug paraphernalia

4. No drug tax stamp

5. Possession of marijuana

William and Lopez had their first appearance in Seward County District Court May 12 following their arrest May 10 at the Liberal Mid-America Regional Airport.

The arrests came after officials with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Seward County Sheriff’s office seized a large quantity of cocaine, as well as a twin-engine aircraft at the airport, according to a release from the KBI.

“The Department of Homeland Security Investigations and the KBI developed information which led them to believe a suspicious aircraft would be landing at the Liberal Mid-America Regional Airport,” the release said. “The Seward County Sherif’s office was requested to conduct a ramp check, a review of the documentation and identification of the pilot and aircraft.”

The KBI release said just before 6 p.m. May 10, the aircraft landed and was detained by authorities.

“After contact was made with the plane’s occupants, over 65 kilograms (or 144 pounds) of cocaine were discovered,” the release said. “The cocaine is estimated to have street value of approximately $2 million.”

The release went on to say that the KBI and the sheriff’s office seized the Beechcraft Queen Air and the cocaine.

“The pilot and passenger of the aircraft were arrested soon after,” it said. “Arrested were a 51-year-old black male and a 26-year-old Hispanic male.”

Both Williams and Lopez are currently being detained in the Seward County Jail on bonds of $2 million each.




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