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March 04, 2014 10:06 am

Suspicious plane leads to seizure

Written by CJ Baker

Cody police discover large amount of cash on pilot 

Citing suspicious behavior, Cody police seized what may be close to $260,000 in cash from a pair of men who flew into the area last week.

Court documents indicate that police suspect the large amount of money could be connected to drug trafficking, but no charges have been filed actually alleging any wrongdoing with the cash.

One man, 25-year-old Scott M. Lewis of Englewood, Colo., has been charged with low-level misdemeanor crimes, alleging the private plane he arrived in was not properly registered and that he flew it to Yellowstone Regional Airport last Thursday without a pilot’s license.

Lewis pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance Monday afternoon, while the second man faces no criminal charges.

An affidavit from Cody Police Detective Ron Parduba filed in connection with Lewis’ case says police received a tip from one of the airport’s fixed-base operator about a suspicious plane that was in the airport overnight.

Choice Aviation’s operations manager told police that the Cessna TU206E had stopped at the airport twice before, including in November. At that time, police were told, several unusual things had been noticed: The pilot paid with $100 bills, never used the fixed-wing cargo plane’s tail number when calling into the airport over the radio and, after being told he couldn’t stay the night at Choice Aviation’s facility, flew out in bad weather.

When the Cessna touched down Thursday afternoon, the individuals on the plane reportedly immediately pulled shades over the side windows and then put a sunshade over the front windshield after the plane was parked.

Poor weather conditions forced Lewis and the other man to stay the night at the Holiday Inn, Parduba wrote, and they were reportedly seen leaving the plane with “several bags.” Choice Aviation’s operations manager thought that was a lot of luggage for two people only staying for a night, the affidavit says.

It’s unclear exactly what evidence Cody police presented to Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters, but at 3:30 a.m. Friday morning, he granted a search warrant for the plane and the two men’s room at the Holiday Inn. Both men refused to answer any questions when contacted by police around 10 a.m. Friday and asked to speak with a lawyer, Parduba wrote.

In the hotel room, Parduba said officers seized a blue duffel bag with a large amount of cash wrapped in 12 vacuum-sealed plastic bags. A handwritten note in the bag indicated there was $258,520 in the bag. Cody Detective Sgt. Jon Beck said on Monday that law enforcement officials had not officially counted it yet.

Officers also found $1,467 in a jacket pocket, Parduba wrote.

He said police also seized two laptops, six electronic storage devices and 15 cell phones. Parduba said they also found three Idaho driver’s licenses; each had different names on the license, but each had Lewis’ photo — the same image that appeared on the Colorado license he presented to police.

Parduba said documents “indicative to possible drug trafficking were seized” from the airplane.

Officers initially detained Lewis and the other man, but ultimately arrested only Lewis — who was identified as the Cessna’s pilot by Choice Aviation personnel. A trial on the misdemeanor registration and licensing charges — each punishable by up to $500 in fines and six months of jail time — has been set for May 15.

In Circuit Court on Monday, Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt asked for Lewis to be held on a $2,500 cash bond. Blatt argued that an unlicensed pilot flying an unregistered aircraft was a public safety risk and that Lewis was a flight risk given his lack of ties to Wyoming.

Lewis said he actually does a have a pilot’s license and had a digital copy at the time of his arrest. He also said he has a job and address in Englewood.

“You can track me down, look for me, I’m easily found and have no plans to be a flight risk at all,” Lewis said.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters rejected Blatt’s request and instead allowed Lewis to go free on his own recognizance. That was in part because prosecutors took slightly more than 72 hours (from 1:10 p.m. Friday to 1:30 p.m. Monday) to get Lewis before the court.

Perhaps reflecting the unusual nature of the case, Lewis said he wasn’t provided a copy of the charges against him until he reached court on Monday.

“I was given very little information,” he told Judge Waters. “I was put in the back of a squad car and taken to booking and until this very moment, in fact, your honor, I was not given really any information about the charges against me or the information about the case, your honor.”

Lewis testified that he currently works part-time at the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences in Denver and earns between $200 and $500 monthly.

Lewis said he has no money in savings. He listed more than $100,000 in debt, which he said primarily stemmed from resigning from the U.S. Air Force Academy in his junior year.

He asked about when he could retrieve his seized personal items — including the electronics and clothes — as well as the status of the plane. Blatt said he didn’t know the items’ status.

Lewis did not ask about or mention the cash during his appearance. The police are still holding it.

Detective Sgt. Beck said he believed the investigation — which involved help from a Powell Police Department drug dog and Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents — would be turned over to a federal law enforcement agency in coming days.

13 comments

  • Comment Link March 04, 2014 11:28 am posted by Dewey

    On television cop shows , the criminals are smart, streetwise, and try not to be conspicuous.

    In real life, not so much...

    P.S. Was the Cessna confiscated and now property of the State ?

  • Comment Link March 04, 2014 5:48 pm posted by Robert Schulte

    Uh, of what was he guilty?

    Granted, it doesn't add up, but I thought the whole point of being an American is that government has to explain its actions to you; not vice versa.

    Having money is evidence of having money. Nothing else.

    Suspicion means crap as far as I am concerned.

    I am suspicious daily that my government is breaking the law and getting ready to screw me.

    What can I do about that?

    Ask Eric Holde to investigate? Martin O'Malley? Vote (and I do)?

    Please.

    Charge the guy or release him and his property. Period.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2014 6:57 am posted by John

    Having lots of cash is not a crime. Unless the police can prove the money was obtained in an illegal way the cash is theirs. Same concerning the airplane, cannot be confiscated if their was no crime committed using the plane.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2014 7:14 am posted by jimbo

    Why would it be, did they find drugs or anything illegal on the aircraft?

  • Comment Link March 05, 2014 9:38 am posted by dane

    Pulling the shades on the windows in a common practice. I do it on our jet every time it's parked on the ramp. Alot of bags, really? You should see our flight crew walking to the hotel shuttle. Using a call sign and not the tail number is common in general aviation.The police had better hope they have that search warrant based on things more solid than that. But they don't really care, just need to deposit that cash and their operation i complete.

  • Comment Link March 05, 2014 12:45 pm posted by Janet

    So - the fact that the drug dogs confirmed that there were substantial drugs on the plane - does that count for anything - where did the suitcases go - they only had the money - numerous fake ID'S - what do you think about that - 15 cell phones - do you think that cody and powell do not have a drug problem? These people are gone - never to return - but their drugs will return, just another way. I, for one, am glad that Choice is looking out for us.

  • Comment Link March 07, 2014 11:56 am posted by Gary

    Police, these days, are out of control! Everything from intentionally shooting innocent people to lying to cover things up. They need their firearms taken away like they have in Great Britain. If the brit's can deal with crime, unarmed, so can police here!

  • Comment Link March 07, 2014 1:49 pm posted by Todd Long

    Did I miss where it said the dog found substantial drugs in the airplane? Or are you just reading that into the article?
    Sorry, but in our country even criminals have rights that need to be followed. And They are not criminals until proven guilty. Occasionally completely innocent people go to jail due to the system failing. And on the other side guilty people get to go free. The cops need to follow the rules regardless of what the true guilt of the suspect is.
    Do you really believe it is ok to trample on someone's rights just because you think they are guilty?

  • Comment Link March 07, 2014 3:51 pm posted by John Browning

    Ah Gary, you're a bit clueless. First of all, the police in the UK now carry guns. They didn't a while ago. But now they do. Nothing was "taken away" from them. The reverse has actually happened.

    And unless you are like the idea of drug smuggling, I don't understand why you or anyone else would think the police did anything wrong. A private citizen alerted the police to suspicious activity. The police investigated. They obtained enough initial evidence to convince a judge to issue a search warrant. Then they found more than a quarter of a million in cash, several computers and 15 cellphones on someone who claims to earn "$200 to $500 a month".

    Come on - don't be an internet troll. I'm sure you're better than that.

  • Comment Link March 07, 2014 6:42 pm posted by sabre76

    Very strange for someone to resign in their Junior year at the Academy. The day you start classes on your Junior Year, you owe the government two years of service or pay it back. This guy sounds honor challenged and I would assume he's a bad guy until proven otherwise

  • Comment Link March 08, 2014 8:44 am posted by figure it out

    typical for the law to do something like that. Dragging their ass (donkey) until they can cover their butt's.

  • Comment Link March 09, 2014 9:01 am posted by Kenneth Jay

    @ Robert Schulte...exactly why they call it an investigation. A person landing a plane without a flight plan or proper pilots license, carrying a duffle bag with $258 plus dollars in it who works as a hotel employee, carrying more than one ID belonging to someone else with your picture on it...sounds like probable cause not government over reach to me.

  • Comment Link March 12, 2014 10:07 am posted by Juniper Berries

    Were there any heads in the duffle bag last time they flew in and back out?

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