Tip leads to seizure of planeload of pot in E. Utah
Vernal airport • Uintah County sheriff, other law officers nab pilot, nearly $500K in marijuana.
Published: November 14, 2013 10:33AM
Updated: November 15, 2013 04:05PM

An anonymous tip, a borrowed drug-sniffing dog and a little patience led to a major marijuana seizure at an rural eastern Utah airport.

Uintah County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy John Laursen said that his office began scrambling after learning that a single-engine airplane loaded with the illegal weed was en route to the Vernal airport late Tuesday afternoon.

The Cessna landed about 5:30 p.m. and soon after the K9 unit — on loan from the Naples City Police Department — alerted to the presence of drugs. A subsequent search turned up 180 pounds of pot, neatly packed in plastic.

In addition to sheriff’s deputies, Naples, Vernal and FBI officers participated in the bust.

Laursen said on Wednesday that the street value of the marijuana was estimated at nearly $500,000.

“It was certainly a surprise for our little airport,” he said. “But we got the tip, went out there and made contact with the pilot, the dog alerted and now the pilot is cooling his heels in the ‘hoosgow. ‘ ”

The pilot, a 56-year-old man from Meridian, Idaho, was booked into the Uintah County Jail Wednesday on suspicion of drug distribution and possession charges. His airplane also was seized.

Laursen, citing the nature of ongoing investigation, would not detail the origin of the marijuana or its ultimate destination.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims