This state police photo shows the airplane which was operated by Hoang Nguyen.
This state police pictures allegedly shows the three bags carrying 74 pounds of marijuana which were found inside the airplane.
WORCESTER — A June 24 trial has been scheduled in Worcester Superior Court for a California pilot charged with trafficking in 74 pounds of marijuana authorities said they seized from a plane he landed at the airport in Fitchburg in 2011.
Judge James R. Lemire set the trial date Wednesday for Hoang H. Nguyen after announcing in open court that he was denying a motion to suppress evidence in the case filed by Mr. Nguyen's lawyer, Leonard J. Staples.
The judge said he had not completed his written decision on the defense motion, which sought to preclude prosecutors from using the marijuana and statements attributed to Mr. Nguyen as evidence against him at trial.
Judge Lemire set the trial date at the request of Assistant District Attorney Timothy M. Farrell and Mr. Staples, who said he may seek to appeal the judge's ruling on the suppression issue.
Mr. Nguyen, 33, of Garden Grove, Calif., was arrested Sept. 27, 2011, by state and federal agents after the rented single-engine plane he had flown from Santa Monica, Calif., touched down at the Fitchburg airport. Authorities said they obtained a search warrant and discovered duffel bags filled with marijuana on board the plane.
Mr. Nguyen has pleaded not guilty to a charge of trafficking in more than 50 pounds of marijuana and has been released from custody on $5,000 cash bail. His appearance in court Wednesday had been waived.
Mr. Staples alleged in his motion to suppress evidence that there was no legal basis for law enforcement officials to detain and question Mr. Nguyen upon his arrival at the airport and that a police dog “sniff” of the airplane suggesting that drugs were on board occurred while his client was being improperly detained.
The defense lawyer further argued that the affidavit submitted by investigators in support of their application for the search warrant lacked any details concerning the certification of the police dog and its handler and contained no information about the dog's track record of “successful hits versus false positives.”
If Mr. Nguyen's statements and information about the dog's “hit” on the plane were redacted from the affidavit, it would have lacked the probable cause required for the issuance of the search warrant, Mr. Staples contended.
Mr. Farrell argued in his written opposition to the motion that the initial interaction between Mr. Nguyen and federal agents and state police was appropriate under federal codes and that his detention was therefore legal.
The codes require pilots to produce various documents, including a pilot's certificate, a certificate of registration for the aircraft and a logbook upon request by a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board or Transportation Security Administration or any federal, state or local law enforcement officer, according to Mr. Farrell.
The prosecutor also maintained that the affidavit in support of the search warrant contained “ample probable cause” to justify the search.
Mr. Nguyen flew out of Santa Monica the day before his arrest and stopped at an airport in Grundy, Ill., according to court records.
An airport manager there contacted officials at the Homeland Security Air Marine Operations Center and reported that he had seen Mr. Nguyen pay cash for fuel and sleep in his plane with two large suitcases, the records state.
A Homeland Security interdiction plane followed the Cirrus SR22 aircraft Mr. Nguyen was piloting to Fitchburg, and the federal agency had been tracking it since it flew over Arizona the previous day, according to court documents.
When questioned by authorities in Fitchburg, Mr. Nguyen allegedly said the duffel bags on the plane were not his and that he did not know what was in them.
Mr. Nguyen told authorities the bags were to be delivered to someone in Fitchburg, but did not identify who had placed them in the aircraft or to whom they were to be delivered, Mr. Farrell said in his opposition brief.
Mr. Nguyen identified himself as a commercial airline pilot and said he had rented the aircraft he was flying for $200 an hour, according to the prosecutor.
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