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.