Lexington apparently was a stopover point for a plane with 40 pounds of meth and 80 bricks of cocaine that federal and state officials tracked Friday from California, according to federal court documents. Florida might have been the ultimate destination.
An indictment could come this week against three men charged in a conspiracy that brought the bulk shipment of cocaine and methamphetamine to Blue Grass Airport via a private jet registered in Oregon.
An attorney for one of the three said during a first appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Lexington that a grand jury would meet in London, Ky., later this week.
Isaac Basilio Rosas, Cedric Allen Oronce Fajardo and Robert Walter Carlson were arrested Friday in Lexington, each charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
State and federal law enforcement officers said they seized 40 pounds of methamphetamine and 80 bricks of cocaine during an investigation.
In an affidavit filed Monday in federal court, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Michael Romagnoli said another special agent in Orlando, Fla., contacted him Thursday about a “bulk currency shipment” that would be on a private plane from California to Lexington. The aircraft was expected to be a Hawker 800 twin-engine jet whose tail number indicated that it was registered to a company in Brookings, Ore., a small coastal town near the California line.
The affidavit doesn’t say how Homeland Security knew about the shipment. But the special agent told Romagnoli that one passenger would be Carlson, who was known to travel on private aircraft with large sums of money and who used cover stories “such as being a strip club owner or a music promoter.”
During these trips, Carlson would make stops in various places to drop off and pick up bags of currency. On Friday’s trip, Carlson was expected to fly to Lexington and then to Atlanta and finally to Florida, the affidavit says.
On Friday, federal agents were present at the Van Nuys, Calif., airport when the suspect aircraft was boarded and loaded with suitcases. One agent took photographs, two of which, depicting the plane being loaded with suitcases, were sent to Romagnoli.
Carlson was the only known occupant of the aircraft, which was expected to land in Lexington at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
About 90 minutes before the plane’s arrival, Homeland Security Investigations agents and detectives from Kentucky State Police began surveillance of the Tac Air terminal for private aircraft at Blue Grass Airport.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m., the Hawker landed at the airport and taxied to the Tac Air terminal, the affidavit says. Five minutes after the plane came to a stop, a woman got off and walked to the terminal while talking on a cellphone. Five minutes after entering the terminal, she walked out a side door and got into a black BMW that drove around to the front area of the terminal parking area. The BMW was a Tac Air courtesy vehicle with the Tac Air logo on the side, according to the affidavit.
During this time, agents saw a man wearing a blue vest get off the plane, then stand on the tarmac talking on a phone. Two other men then got off the plane, one wearing a red and blue plaid shirt and the other a blue blazer.
The man wearing the plaid shirt, later identified as Fajardo, pulled a black suitcase on rollers. Both men walked to the terminal and then to the waiting BMW. The man with the roller suitcase loaded it into the car’s trunk and got into the car. The man wearing the blue blazer, later identified as Rosas, got into the driver’s seat.
Kentucky State Police troopers were waiting near the airport and saw the car leave the parking lot. Troopers saw the BMW run a stop sign and then stopped the car. During that stop, a drug-sniffing dog was summoned, and the dog detected drugs. During a search, the suitcase was found to contain individually packaged bricks that tested positive for methamphetamine. The preliminary weight of drugs seized from the car was 40 pounds, the affidavit says.
Fajardo and Rojas were arrested, invoked their right to remain silent and made no statement to police.
Information discovered during the traffic stop was passed along to agents and detectives at the airport who were watching the plane. A man wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt, later identified as Carlson, was detained, as were the pilots.
A state police drug dog was used to conduct an “air sniff” outside the aircraft, and the dog alerted officers to the presence of narcotics on the plane. State police detectives searched the aircraft and found three more pieces of luggage. In a search ofthe first bag, the contents appeared to be similar to the drugs found in the car.
One of the bricks found in the bags from the plane tested positive for cocaine. Investigators found about 80 bricks of suspected cocaine in three pieces of luggage. Each brick weighed about 1 kilogram, roughly 2.2 pounds.
Romagnoli and another Homeland Security Investigations agent interviewed Carlson. He told the agents he didn’t want to answer any questions that might incriminate him but that he would answer other questions.
Carlson said he knew all the passengers on the plane and the pilot, and they all agreed to fly from California to Kentucky, then to Atlanta and finally to Miami. Carlson told the agents that he owned his own business and had traveled before to Lexington. He said he lived in a hotel in California but wouldn’t name the hotel.
Asked about the purpose of the trip, Carlson said “it was a fuel stop and that the pilots wanted food,” according to the affidavit. “Carlson denied knowledge of narcotics being on the plane or in the vehicle that left the airport with his friends.”
The woman on the plane also was interviewed and cooperated with law enforcement. She told investigators she didn’t know the purpose of the Lexington stop. She showed text messages from Carlson on her phone indicating that the stop in Lexington was a stop for a “drop” and for “business.” Carlson’s text to her said that she needed to “see how that works,” according to the affidavit.
The woman indicated that meant she needed to see how business works. “Based on her statement, coupled with the drugs recovered, I believe that the references to ‘drop’ and ‘business’ meant that Carlson, Fajardo and Basilio Rosas intended to distribute a portion of the drugs to unknown persons in Lexington,” Romagnoli wrote in the affidavit. “I further know that the drugs are in quantities indicative of distribution rather than personal use.”
The affidavit doesn’t indicate that the woman was charged. However, during the three men’s first appearance Monday in federal court, Magistrate Judge Robert Wier learned that Rosas is apparently in the United States illegally, and that a detainer for him would be forthcoming.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement places detainers on aliens who have been arrested on local criminal charges and for whom ICE possesses probable cause to think that they are removable from the United States.
Even though a grand jury might issue an indictment in the case as early as Thursday, Wier scheduled a preliminary hearing for Friday in Lexington. If an indictment is returned, Wier said, he would convert the preliminary hearing to an arraignment.
Such a large seizure appears to have been rare for the Lexington airport. In June 1989, police confiscated 38 pounds of marijuana that was found in a piece of luggage. In May 1997, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized a Lear jet at the airport that was suspected of being owned by international drug smugglers.