Utah man caught with $1.2M of pot in New Castle
When Ken Burrows landed his single-engine Cessna at the New Castle Municipal Airport last week, he told officials on the ground that he was carrying hot-water tanks across the country.
Federal and local officials say they instead found 242 pounds of high-grade marijuana worth an estimated $1.2 million.
“That's a big find,” said Mahoning police Sgt. Brian Magliocca, whose K-9 partner Vex helped uncover the drugs.
Authorities arrested Burrows, 53, of Orem, Utah, on Friday at the Lawrence County airport and charged him with possessing a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
Burrows and family members could not be reached. A man who answered a phone at Burrows' Salt Lake City business, which manufactures geodesic domes, said he did not know of the arrest. Police said Burrows flew his blue and green Cessna from Utah to northern California on Dec. 12, picked up the marijuana, then flew cross-country with no flight plan, on a seemingly nonsensical route.
“He flew at low altitude, zigzagging across the country to avoid radar towers” and big cities, Lawrence County District Attorney Josh Lamancusa said. “He had blacked-out windows. He was landing at smaller airports to refuel.”
At some point in the journey, Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection officials took notice of Burrows' haphazard flight pattern and began investigating, according to a criminal complaint.
Lamancusa said the agents shadowed the Cessna in a Black Hawk helicopter. When the Cessna landed in New Castle to refuel, ground agents questioned Burrow.
“We determined there was sufficient evidence to bring out a dog,” Lamancusa said.
The marijuana was sealed in plastic containers, authorities said. Vex, a 2-year-old German shepherd that only recently started as a K-9, immediately sniffed it out.
“The dog hit very strong on the airplane,” Mahoning police Chief Jim Morris said. “When he got to the luggage compartment, he immediately sat down and turned his head towards his handler.”
Burrows spent the weekend in the Lawrence County Jail on $300,000 bail. On Monday, the county released him to Homeland Security officials. Federal officials later arrested the suspected buyers in Rhode Island, Lamancusa said.
Homeland Security officials declined to comment. It is unclear what federal charges Burrows might face.
“Our investigation is ongoing,” said Margaret Philbin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh.
Burrows was set to return to Lawrence County for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, but a judge delayed the hearing to a date to be determined.
Court documents do not list an attorney for Burrows.
J. Grant Moody, an American Fork, Utah, attorney who represented Burrows in a bankruptcy case four years ago, said he has not spoken to his former client in years, and he did not know Burrows was a pilot.
Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer.