- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A federal judge said Friday he’s likely to deny a request from two Colorado men to get separate trials on criminal charges accusing them of conspiring to operate an unregistered airplane.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson of Cheyenne heard challenges from lawyers representing Scott Michael Lewis of Englewood, Colorado, and Gilbert Wayne Wiles, Jr. of Denver.

Johnson said he will formally rule on other defense motions to dismiss the charges and suppress evidence before trial later this month, but his comments seemed to indicate he won’t grant them.

Federal prosecutors charged Lewis and Wiles in January, nearly two years after authorities in Cody seized a Cessna airplane and over $250,000 cash from them. The government is pressing a separate civil case seeking to forfeit the cash and plane, alleging they were involved in the illegal drug trade.

Prosecutors say a worker at Yellowstone Regional Airport first notified authorities that the men appeared suspicious after they landed in a plane on Feb. 27, 2014.



The worker told police that the pilot didn’t radio the airport before landing and sunshades were lowered over the windows even though the plane was about to be stored in a hangar.

Powell Police Officer Tye Reece McLain testified Friday that his drug dog alerted on the Cessna but a search of the plane found no drugs, which McLain said indicated to him the dog smelled the residual odor of drugs that had been there earlier.

A search of a hotel room turned up the cash and three allegedly fake Idaho driver’s licenses, prosecutors say.

Federal prosecutors last fall alerted Lewis that he was the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Homeland Security Department involving allegations of federal crimes including conspiracy to distribute marijuana, money laundering, identity theft and operation of an unregistered aircraft, according to court records.

However, the criminal charges the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed in January don’t allege any violation of drug laws. Rather, the federal indictment charges Lewis and Wiles with conspiracy to operate an unregistered aircraft and aiding and abetting the operation of an unregistered aircraft.

Authorities allege that Wiles had purchased the plane in Texas for $130,000 cash in 2013. Wiles told people who serviced the plane that he and Lewis were working for an aerial photography business, prosecutors allege.

Defense lawyers argued Friday that Johnson should block prosecutors from making any mention of the cash at the pending criminal trial on the grounds that it would prejudice the jury.

“I think it’s very clear what the governor’s intent is here,” Wiles’ lawyer Dion Custis of Cheyenne told Johnson. “And that is to convince a jury that there was some type of illegal activity going on.”

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