The Hernando County Sheriff's Office is now looking for the two men they say flew the Beech Baron twin engine plane from the west coast to Florida.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Neinhuis said in a news conference Thursday, four large bags containing almost 200 pounds of marijuana, the aircraft and a pickup truck had been seized as part of the investigation. Street value of the seized pot was estimated to be worth between $300,000 and $350,000.
It all started Monday night with what the sheriff said was a surprise call from Homeland Security officials at around 10:30. They asked for help with a plane landing at the Brooksville airport, saying the plane was "acting suspiciously."
Neinhuis said his office keeps a close watch on the airport, and keeps a deputy nearby, so they sent the nearest deputy over to check it out. When she arrived, the deputy said the plane had been parked in a hangar, which was being closed as she arrived.
When backup got there, they found Joshua Overton and Aaron Andris leaving the hangar. The sheriff said the two were not cooperative and would not let officers search the hangar. While law enforcement, including Homeland Security, worked to get a search warrant for the hangar, the men asked if they were free to leave. With no cause to hold them, officers let them go.
The search warrant was approved and executed around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. After finding the large amount of pot, the sheriff said they began to investigate the two men. Records show Overton owns the plane and rented the hangar. He is from the St. Petersburg area and does not have a criminal past.
Andris is from Chico, California and also had a clean criminal history. Both men are wanted for trafficking marijuana, possession of a conveyance (the aircraft), and possession of paraphernalia. The sheriff said if they are caught, or preferably turn themselves in, they will be held under a $41,000 bond each.
Sheriff Neinhuis said he was not sure if this was an isolated incident for the Brooksville airport, or if the two men had flow drugs in before, adding, "It's probably not the first time they've been involved in drug smuggling."
"I don't think drug traffickers really have a set way of doing things and that's why sometimes it makes them a little difficult," the sheriff said. "We do spend a lot of time monitoring the airport... and try to have a unit in the area most of the time."
The sheriff said anyone with information about where the two men are may contact Crime Stoppers and be eligible for a cash reward up to $1,000.
At the news conference, Senator Wilton Simpson (R-District 10) was on hand to say he appreciated the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
"This is two in a row. Last month we had a major bust and now this month we have marijuana. The sheriff is saving lots of lives here. There are a lot of sheriff's in our area that are known for being tough on crime. The state is willing to a partner with the sheriff any time."
Sheriff Neinhuis thanked The Lake County Sheriff's Office, agents with Customs and Border Enforcement, Federal Aviation Administration officers from Orlando and Atlanta, Georgia, and Homeland Security officials for help with the investigation.
Pilot, Joshua Overton 32, of St. Petersburg, Florida
Passenger, Aaron Andrus, 38, of Chico, California
BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) – Hernando County Sheriff’s deputies seize nearly 200 pounds worth of marijuana on Monday, with a street value of more than $300,000.
They said Joshua Overton and Aaron Andrus flew the marijuana into the Brooksville Tampa Bay Regional Airport Monday night, but before they touched down, deputies got a call from the Department of Homeland Security telling them the two might be smuggling drugs.
“It’s probably not their first time being involved in drug smuggling,” said Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis at a press conference at the airport Thursday afternoon.
The sheriff said the pair landed the million dollar Beechcraft Baron Monday night, but deputies but didn’t have enough cause to hold them.
Hours later when deputies executed a search warrant, they found the plane packed with pot, but by then, Overton and Andrus were long gone.
“It was pretty sophisticated, as you can see by the packaging,” Sheriff Nienhuis told News Channel 8.
The pot was neatly sealed in the passenger’s compartment in vacuum-packed bags stuffed into duffel bags.
“I would say there’s a very good likelihood this is not the first time they smuggled drugs,” Nienhuis said.
But, was this their first time to Brooksville? The sheriff said yes.
He said the pair took off from California and thought Brooksville would be off the fed’s radar, but that wasn’t the case.
Now, the sheriff and local lawmakers are glad this pot never made it to its final destination.
“I’m proud that this is not on the streets,” said state Senator Wilton Simpson. “People are losing their lives or worse in some cases.”
“I think at the very minimum, it inhibits our economic recovery and at the maximum, lives are lost,” Nienhuis told News Channel 8.
Neither man has a criminal record.
If you see them, you’re urged to contact the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.
Story and video: http://wfla.com