After taking off from Santa Monica Airport, authorities in Pontiac, Ill. intercepted a small airplane containing 340 pounds of marijuana on May 3.
The pilot in the incident, Alan Luster, a 46-year-old male from Marietta, Ga., has frequently flown out of Santa Monica Airport (SMO), said Sgt. Jay Trisler, Public Information Officer for the Santa Monica Police Department.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security tracked the 1971 twin-prop Beechcraft after taking off from SMO, but became suspicious when it’s flight plan was altered and information on its take-off location and destination were determined to be fraudulent. Originally destined for Ohio, Luster and his passengers landed at the Pontiac Municipal Airport at 3:12 p.m. on May 3 due to bad weather.
Local authorities were notified before the plane landed in Pontiac by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and officers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service arrived by jet shortly after. Local police dogs sniffed out the contraband packed in “bricks” and carried in duffel bags. The total worth is estimated to be around $340,000.
Luster had two passengers with him during the incident, both are California residents. 30-year-old Cher Holland of Los Angeles, and 44-year-old Ernest Austin of Fonata, were charged with trafficking cannabis and given a $2 million bond each. Luster’s bond is $4 million. The three individuals have been charged with drug trafficking on a state level in Illinois, according to authorities there in Livingston County, where Pontiac is seated. Marijuana trafficking is a Class X felony meaning the three accused traffickers face prison terms of between 12 and 60 years.
The Pontiac Police Department said federal charges are not expected because the Illinois State has a stronger case. Trisler said the SMPD is aware of the incident and currently investigating it, although it is unlikely the three will be charged in Santa Monica as well.
The plane was leased from a private owner in Texas whose involvement is yet to be determined, said Pontiac Police Maj. Jim Woolford.
Santa Monica Airport Director, Bob Trimborn said his staff his cooperating in the investigation by providing access to all levels of law enforcement.
“It’s unfortunate that this happened,” Trimborn said, “but they caught them and they’re no longer out there.”