Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Federal jury gets first look at product at center of alleged $17M conspiracy, views surveillance of drug deal

April 23, 2014

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Jurors in federal court on Wednesday got their first look at the substance allegedly at the center of a 43-defendant interstate conspiracy.

Still on the witness stand, Lawrence Police Detective Mike McAtee opened two boxes containing one-pound, vacuum-sealed bags of high-grade marijuana allegedly purchased by an informant from one of the defendants, Los Rovell Dahda, in Lawrence in 2011.

Dahda is standing trial alongside his twin brother, Roosevelt Rico Dahda, and an alleged associate, Justin Pickel. The conspiracy charges carry possible mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years in federal prison for the Dahdas and 10 for Pickel, if convicted.

McAtee, one of a possible 200-plus witnesses to testify, spent all of Wednesday on the stand and will continue when the trial resumes Monday.

McAtee said Wednesday that the case expanded a common theme: the steady increase in trafficking of high-grade marijuana in Lawrence. McAtee said that by the mid-2000s he was investigating a “sudden growth in home invasion robberies,” almost all of which involved firearms.

Much of McAtee’s testimony Wednesday detailed the paper trail that followed several of the co-defendants who frequently shipped heavy crates or FedEx packages between Kansas and California locations. He said records also revealed several co-defendants from out of town occasionally did business out of Lawrence hotel rooms.

Peter Park and Wayne Swift, who each pleaded guilty to conspiracy and were accused of shipping marijuana between their businesses in Kansas and California, were frequently mentioned among the scores of shipments tracked by investigators. As was co-defendant Chad Bauman, who prosecutors say shipped thousands of dollars and hundreds of pounds of marijuana at a time between several businesses he operated in Lawrence, Kansas City and California.

McAtee said investigators began pulling 18-hour days listening to intercepted phone calls in January 2012 until early June 2012, less than two weeks before the initial wave of arrests, searches and seizures in the case. He said that investigators believed they had enough evidence and that if the wire-tapping continued, the case would just continue to grow.

“At some point you just have to stop,” he said.

Surveillance on Los Rovell Dahda began outside his home at 119 Pawnee Ave. in October 2011, McAtee said, as well as at Gran-Daddy’s Barbecue, 1447 W. 23rd St., where Dahda worked and claimed to have an investment in the business.

The first controlled purchase of one pound of marijuana by a cooperating individual, or C.I., from Los Rovell Dahda took place Nov. 11, 2011, at the restaurant, McAtee said. The C.I. agreed to participate after detectives arrested him in August 2011 when he met them with $74,000 in cash under the impression that they would sell him 20 pounds of marijuana. When the C.I. met Dahda for the first buy, Dahda offered to front him the marijuana on a loan when the C.I. told him that he had had his marijuana and money stolen, McAtee said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Terra Morehead asked McAtee on Wednesday if that cover story was true. It was, partially, he answered. “The truthful part was he lost his $74,000 to us,” McAtee said.

On Wednesday, the jury watched and listened to recordings of the first two controlled buys between the C.I. and Los Rovell Dahda. Between conversations about the product the two were heard discussing everyday topics: complaining about then-Kansas University football coach Turner Gill, partying with women and being sore from playing basketball. McAtee said that after each buy, he would follow the C.I. and collect the evidence.

When the C.I. met Los Rovell Dahda five days after their first transaction, Dahda answered a call from the C.I. that he was ready for more product.

“They liked that last one,” the C.I. could be heard saying in reference to the last package.

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