- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A federal judge on Friday ordered a second Colorado man to serve three years of supervised probation for his involvement in operating an unregistered airplane that police seized two years ago in Cody, Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson sentenced Gilbert Wayne Wiles Jr., 38, of Denver, imposing one more year of probation than Wiles’ attorney had requested.

Wiles pleaded guilty in April to a felony charge of aiding and abetting the operation of an unregistered airplane. Prosecutors on Friday dropped another charge of conspiracy to operate an unregistered airplane against him.

Johnson on Wednesday had sentenced co-defendant Scott Michael Lewis, 37, of Englewood, Colorado, to three years of supervised probation on his conviction of operating an unregistered airplane.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wyoming charged Wiles and Lewis in January - nearly two years after authorities in Cody seized a Cessna airplane that they had flown into the local airport. Police also seized over $250,000 cash from their hotel room.

The police action followed a tip from a worker at Yellowstone Regional Airport who reported that the men appeared suspicious after they landed there on Feb. 27, 2014, according to court records. The worker told police 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.

A police officer testified earlier this year at a suppression hearing that a drug dog alerted to the plane but no drugs were found. The officer said he interpreted the dog’s actions to mean the plane had been used for transporting drugs in the past.

Authorities have alleged that Wiles paid someone in Texas $130,000 cash in 2013 for the 1968 Cessna TU-206 Super Skywagon. Prosecutors have said Wiles instructed the seller to make out the bill of sale to a limited liability company incorporated in New Mexico.

The single-propeller high-wing plane had been flying under “visual flight rules,” meaning no flight plan had to be filed. Wiles had told people who serviced the plane that he and Lewis were working for an aerial photography business, prosecutors have alleged.

Kip Crofts, U.S. attorney for Wyoming, informed Lewis in November 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, court records show. However, the charges that Crofts’ office filed early this year didn’t allege any violation of drug laws.

Both Wiles and Lewis stipulated that they gave up any claim to the airplane as part of their recent plea agreements. Lewis has asserted a claim to the cash in a separate civil forfeiture case that’s also pending before Johnson. Lewis’ lawyer has stated in court filings that the funds were from unspecified legitimate activities.

In sentencing both Wiles and Lewis this week, Johnson remarked that little information had come out at their plea and sentencing hearings to explain how the men came to be flying an airplane hauling over a quarter-million in cash at an airport in northern Wyoming. The judge said law enforcement has documented the plane made trips to California, Oregon, Minnesota and Illinois.

“This case is still one that is largely surrounded by mystery,” Johnson said Friday.

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