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Cocaine case dismissed PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 November 2017 13:27

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Pilot did not have permission to authorize search



By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



After the case of the pilot was dismissed about a month ago, Wednesday, charges were likewise dropped for the passenger of a plane alleged to be carrying 144 pounds of cocaine that landed at the Liberal airport earlier this year.

Using the transcript of the preliminary hearing, District Judge Clint Peterson ruled on a motion to dismiss the case and a motion to suppress the evidence against Ricardo Lopez.

Peterson denied the motion to dismiss, which Lopez’s attorney, Derek Miller, said was due to lack of probable cause, but the judge did accept the motion to suppress.

Peterson said the search of the plane by Detective Jared Wagenseller of the Seward County Sheriff’s office was illegal and the pilot, Patrick Williams, did not have the authority to consent to a search of Lopez’s bags.

After ruling the evidence be suppressed, Peterson dismissed the case. The charges dropped against Lopez are:

1. Possession with intent to distribute cocaine of more than one kilogram

2. Conspiracy to distribute cocaine

3. Possession of drug paraphernalia

4. No drug tax stamp

5. Possession of marijuana

6 and 7. Possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute

The last two charges were added from the original complaint. 

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 noted. “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 noted. “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,” the release noted. “Arrested were a 51-year-old black male and a 26-year-old Hispanic male.”

In October at an arraignment, Williams’ attorney, Paul Kitzke,  argued that none of the evidence presented at his client’s preliminary hearing showed the defendant was in possession of what was in the bags on the plane. Kitzke added, though, there was no dispute by the defense that the locked bags were in Lopez’s possession. Those bags, however, were not able to be accessed by Williams.

Peterson agreed, saying Seward County Detective Jared Wagenseller, the lone witness at the preliminary hearing, had no probable cause to arrest Williams and that Williams had no knowledge of what was in the bag.

The first four charges against Williams were immediately dismissed by Peterson, including:

• Possession with intent to distribute cocaine;

• Conspiracy of possession with intent to distribute cocaine;

• Possession of drug paraphernalia; and

• No Kansas drug tax stamp.

A fifth charge, possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, remained as Peterson said the court had no jurisdiction in that case. He then asked prosecutor Russell Hasenbank what the state’s intent was with the charge. Hasenbank said the state would like to make a motion to dismiss the charge. With no dispute from Kitzke, Peterson ruled the charge dismissed.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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