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St. Regis Falls man sentenced to year in prison for marijuana possession

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HOGANSBURG — A St. Regis Falls man was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court, Utica, to a year and a day in prison for possessing more than 100 pounds of marijuana in 2010.

Eric C. Wilson, 23, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd for a Jan. 25 guilty plea to possessing with the intent to distribute 50 kilograms or more of marijuana.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, officers with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police and their Canadian counterparts, the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, saw a car driven by Mr. Wilson cross from the United States into Canada and then back again through an unguarded and unmarked border crossing on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, which is divided by the U.S.-Canadian border, with the Canadian portion named the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation.

A detective sergeant with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police, who was “cross-designated” as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement customs officer, found the car, followed it with another police officer and then stopped it. Officers searched the vehicle and found three large hockey bags, holding a total of 125 pounds of marijuana, in the trunk.

Judge Hurd initially suppressed the evidence based upon his finding that the sergeant stopped the car outside the boundaries of the reservation in the town of Burke and that the sergeant failed to comply with ICE approval procedures for the exercise of his authority as a customs officer.A cross-designated customs officer needs prior ICE authorization to exercise customs authority, but the detective sergeant did not obtain it in this case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York City, reversed the lower court’s ruling in October, holding that “the stop was justified by probable cause to believe that Wilson had entered the United States in violation of law” and that the sergeant was a validly designated customs officer authorized to make the traffic stop, thus meaning his failure to follow an internal ICE policy did not give rise to a Fourth Amendment violation. The Court of Appeals also ruled that there was probable cause to search the car for marijuana smuggled over the border.

Mr. Wilson is due to start his prison term July 16. He remains released until then.

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