Thursday, January 09, 2014

Beech 58P Baron, N4618M

  Vincenzo Salzano, left, has been indicted on federal charges for allegations that he possessed and intended to sell more than 70 pounds of cocaine, which a search of his private plane turned up when he stopped to refuel in Baton Rouge on October 8th, 2013. Two other relatives traveling with him, Armando Salzano (center), and Mohammad Nekouie, were also arrested but have not been indicted. (East Baton Rouge Parish Jail)

 Baton Rouge Police officer Luke Cowart and K9 Roux assisted in the search of the plane and found 10 kilos of cocaine, which hadn't been located in the initial search.

One of the three Colorado men arrested in October after a search of their private plane at the Baton Rouge airport allegedly turned up 72 pounds of cocaine has been indicted on federal charges.

A grand jury indicted 55-year-old Vincenzo Salzano, the plane’s owner, for possession and intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and of conspiracy to commit the same act, acting U.S. Attorney Walt Green said Thursday in a press release

Salzano, who was arrested with his sons while stopping to refuel in Baton Rouge during a trip from McAllen, Texas, to Atlanta, faces a life sentence and $20  million in fines. If convicted, he may also be forced to turn over the Beechcraft 58P Baron that allegedly transported the cocaine and any money earned from his alleged drug-selling activity. 

The release makes no mention the other two men arrested: Salzano’s son, Armando Salzano, 32; and his son-in-law, Mohammad Nekouie, 32.

Court documents indicate federal charges against Nekouie have been dropped. On January 2nd, 2014,  the U.S. Attorney’s office asked to drop the charges because the prosecution couldn’t meet its burden of proof. On January 3rf, 2014, federal Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger signed off on dismissal of the charges.

It's unclear if Armando Salzano's charges have also been dropped. Court documents indicate he was granted conditional release from custody on November 26th. But the latest court document available to the public, filed on December 19th, suggest his case is still active. He was originally charged with the same two counts as his father: possession with intent to sell cocaine and conspiracy to possess and intent to sell cocaine. 

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reportedly notified Louisiana State Police prior to the arrests that an aircraft with a suspicious flight pattern was going to land at the airport. Officials met the plane when it landed, searched the plane and discovered 71.8 pounds of cocaine, according to records. 

The indictment says on October 7th, the elder Salzano met with "other individuals" and boarded his private plane to Atlanta. The following day, he allegedly flew from Atlanta to the McAllen area, where he deplaned, left the airport and obtained approximately 30 “packaged bundles” of cocaine. He and “another individual ” boarded the plane and intended to fly back to Atlanta but were arrested upon refueling in at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport.

McAllen is located on the western side of the southern tip of Texas and shares a small border with Mexico. 

All three were originally processed in state district court and faced potential duel prosecution by both the state and federal government, but East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore’s office dropped the charges November 5th , turning the case over to Homeland Security officials, who took custody of the men. East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney John Russell said at the time the FBI and other federal agencies had more resources to prosecute the case, which involves evidence from a number of states. 

Agencies investigating the case include the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Louisiana State Police. Also assisting are the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other law enforcement agencies.

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