Pubdate: Wed, 21 Dec 2011
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2011 Star Tribune
Author: Abby Simons , Star Tribune
Note: Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.


Suspicions Over A Late-night Landing At The Anoka County Airport Set
Off An Investigation That Led To Arrests And The Breakup Of A
California-to-minnesota Drug Ring.

Federal agents swung open the doors of the Mooney M20 minutes after it
taxied to a stop at 3:30 a.m. on the darkened runway at the Anoka
County Airport.

Two nervous pilots were in the cockpit, several large hockey bags
filled the cabin. But the pungent aroma wasn't sweaty pads and skates.

The bags, stuffed with 88 pounds of high-grade marijuana, were
precious cargo in a lucrative California-to-Minnesota drug ring that
conspired to distribute at least 132 pounds of pot valued at as much
as $1 million and resulted federal indictments against six men --
including two Minnesotans.

Accused in an indictment unsealed Tuesday in federal court in St. Paul
were Todd C. Skonnord, 26, of St. Paul, and Cameron L. Christensen,
23, of Andover; and Coloradans Boyd E. Wilkinson, 36, Robert L.
Bowker, 33, Anthony W. Raymond, 37, and Matthew M. Hecker, 28.

The indictment, filed Nov. 22, was unsealed after the defendants'
initial court appearances. All are free on bail.

Wilkinson, the pilot the night of the Sept. 30 bust, and Hecker, the
co-pilot, have since pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to distribute 50
or more kilograms of marijuana.

Hecker's attorney, Robert Lengeling, said his client has accepted
responsibility for his actions. Wilkinson's attorney, Robert
Christensen, called him "a smart individual who made a mistake. He
wants to make amends and move forward."

Both men face up to 20 years in prison. The amount of time will depend
largely on their cooperation with the prosecution.

Christensen's attorney, Frederic Bruno, said the Minnesota man is
"kind of a small cog in the operation," and ultimately will come out
OK. He expressed surprise that a "relatively small quantity" of
marijuana resulted in a federal case, but acknowledged that the
involvement of the airplanes made it unusual.

"You don't see a lot of that in Minnesota," he said. "Or at least we
don't know a lot about it."

According to an affidavit, the marijuana is "very high grade" and
sells for $6,000 to $8,000 a pound in Minnesota.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Hollenhorst said he could not discuss
the pending case.

Pot and money

Federal court documents detail the pilots' cooperation from the night
of the bust. According to a search warrant affidavit, Homeland
Security Investigations agents received a tip that someone had seen
suspicious activity at the Blaine airport on Sept. 26 that included
two men landing a plane filled with large hockey bags and acting

Four days later, they landed again in the middle of the night, when
the control tower was closed and the airport's status was
"uncontrolled." The waiting agents then moved in.

In an interview, Wilkinson and Hecker admitted to having made three
drug-smuggling trips between Sept. 18-30 on behalf of Christensen and

Wilkinson allegedly said in an interview that he was approached by
Raymond in Colorado to fly the marijuana between the states using
rented planes. They flew to California and met Bowker, according to an
affidavit, who allegedly gave them marijuana that they in turn flew to
Minnesota. Once in Minnesota, they were given cash to return to Colorado.

The Sept. 26 shipment included 46 pounds of marijuana. Other shipments
included duffel bags full of cash. The hockey bags seized Sept. 30
contained 70 pounds of marijuana. For their efforts, the pilots
received $8,000.

Four days after Wilkinson and Hecker were arrested, the Iowa State
Patrol stopped Christensen and Skonnord west of Des Moines. Inside the
vehicle was a small amount of marijuana, $79,995 in cash, documents
that appeared to be drug ledgers and cellphones.

Names and text messages on the phones were linked to coordinating drug
shipments. One of the phones contained photos of marijuana plants,
compressed marijuana, cash in bulk and equipment commonly used in
cultivating marijuana. The men were indicted just over a month later.

An attorney for Skonnord was not available and he did not respond to a
telephone message left at his home. Christensen also did not respond
to a message.

A Nov. 21 posting on his Facebook profile reads "I'm a money machine,
I can re make it."

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.
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