Flying drug ring grounded

Posted: 27th April 2011 by Doc in Uncategorized
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COURTHOUSE — A Colorado couple who flew from Las Vegas to Wings Field in a 1959 Piper Comanche planned to sell a pound of methamphetamine to help pay their travel expenses, but instead the two were nabbed by Montgomery County narcotics officers and sent to jail.

James Handzus, 51, and Tamara Vincent, 41, of Rifle, Colo., were arrested during the sting Thursday and charged with drug trafficking, according to Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who held a news conference Tuesday at Wings Field.

She praised police but especially credited the Blue Bell airport staff for providing crucial support that led to apprehension of the suspects.

In March, the DA’s Drug Task Force and Narcotics Enforcement Team discovered Handzus routinely flew in methamphetamine to sell in the local area, but they didn’t know when he would make his next trip.

Then Thursday investigators discovered the couple’s travel plans, and later that day spotted the vintage blue Piper airplane at the Blue Bell airport.

“So with not a great deal of time for planning here for this operation, the detectives kicked into high gear, and I have to tell you anecdotally and interestingly, they were able to use social media to confirm (the couple’s) travel plans,” Ferman said at a news conference at Wings Field.

Handzus’ Facebook page shows him posing with his plane nicknamed “My Lady.” Apparently, he did not file flight plans before piloting the aircraft on the 2,400 mile trip.

One undercover officer contacted the Colorado man Friday and arranged to purchase a pound of illicit drug from him. Ferman showed the pound of crystal meth that had been seized from the couple’s luggage that same day.

“We’re not talking about something that is made in someone’s garage or basement,” she said. “This is extremely powerful, and it’s very high grade.”

The DA said she believes the methamphetamine was manufactured in Mexico and sent to Las Vegas, which is “the hub of distribution” for the illicit narcotic in the United States.

The undercover cop also spoke to the couple on Friday and arranged to meet them at Ruby Tuesday’s on Chemical Road in Plymouth Township.

At the restaurant, Vincent explained that her boyfriend had family in the area, and when the couple visited they brought the drugs to sell to pay expenses and provide extra money, according to court papers. She agreed to sell the undercover officer the meth for $27,000.

Vincent suggested the prospective buyer could divide the substance up into eighths of an ounce, called “eight balls,” that would sell on the street for between $500 to $600 each. She also said he would get a break on the wholesale price if he purchased quantities of at least five pounds in the future.

To allow the officer to inspect the meth before making a downpayment, Handzus took off a necklace he was wearing and handed it to the detective. When the officer took the necklace to the eatery’s restroom, he discovered a small amount of the narcotic inside. The undercover investigator then gave Vincent a $2,000 payment. He promised to pay the balance when they arrived at a nearby hotel, but as the officer was loading their luggage into his vehicle, narcotics officers moved in and arrested the two.

The DA said the authorities are seeking forfeiture of the Piper Comanche. And if forfeited, the aircraft would either be sold or used by police for drug enforcement.

Handzus and Vincent were arraigned are being held in Montgomery County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bail each.

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