SIDNEY – A local judge has denied requests to suppress evidence in a case against three people charged in a major drug trafficking apprehension in Sidney on Jan. 5. A defense attorney claimed a search warrant used to gather evidence was based on questionable information.
Arrests made that day included a 61-year-old Sidney man on five drug-related felony charges following a search of his home.
In two separate recent decisions, Shelby County Common Pleas Court Judge James Stevenson ruled police officers did not provide false information in obtaining the warrant; and, that all aspects in determining the legality of the search were lawful.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30,Stevenson ruled the judge who issued the search warrant based their decision on “an extensive investigation covering several months” and that law enforcement “acted in good faith,” based on online court documents.
The cases against the trio also include the possible loss of four vehicles and a large amount of cash.
Indicted on March 29, on identical charges were Leon J. Francis Sr., 61, 1235 St. Marys Ave., and Leon J. Francis Jr., 33, and Sarah Jones, 32, both of same address in Cave Junction, Oregon. All three remain free on a $60,000 bond each.
According to online court records, the trio are each charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony; aggravated trafficking in drugs, a third-degree felony; two counts of trafficking in drugs, both third and fourth-degree felonies; and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony.
The grand jury also included specification conditions that call for the forfeiture of $246,322 in cash believed to be derived from drug sales, a 2018 Outback Ultra Lite camper, and a 2015 Ford F-250 pick-up truck allegedly bought with cash from drug sales and used in the commission of the crimes. All items were confiscated at the time of their arrest.
Search warrant led to arrest
According to authorities, a search warrant was executed by Sidney and Piqua Police Departments, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol at the home of Francis Sr. Officers reportedly saw Jones enter the residence. Reportedly, no one answered the door and a narcotics search warrant was requested.
Francis Sr. was in the house while Jones was allegedly discovered in the camper along with drugs and cash. Officers recovered marijuana, hash, and THC products, and the cash that were concealed in the camper parked behind the residence.
Prior to the search, Francis Jr. allegedly left the residence in the pickup truck and was located by police at 760 E. Hoewisher Road. Authorities later seized the camper and truck.
The record noted the drug activity was within 1,000 feet of Northwood Elementary School, which impacted the level of the charges.
Francis Sr. claimed the marijuana, hash oil and other THC products located in a bedroom in the house were for his personal use.
Investigators believe the camper and truck were used as part of a large drug trafficking trade spanning multiple states. The report also indicates the St. Marys Avenue residence was home to parties believed to be involved with the suspected trafficking enterprise.
Prosecutor outlines warrant
Shelby County Prosecutor Tim Sell argued through a written response filed Oct. 12 that through surveillance, a confidential police informant, and a trash pull conducted in front of the home, provided sufficient evidence to be granted a warrant. He included information regarding questionable activity by Francis Sr.
On Sept. 23, 2017, the elder Francis was stopped by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents while carrying $50,000 cash at the Dayton (Ohio) International Airport. A drug search canine alerted a detection during an open-air sniff of the cash. The cash, all $20 notes vacuum sealed, was seized by Homeland Security.
Agents also noted Francis indicated he was travelling to California when he had a plane ticket to Oregon. Francis told agents the cash was for his son’s business.
Sell noted the report stated that, three weeks prior, Francis Sr. had been stopped by the TSA agents at the Dayton airport carrying $40,000 cash. Francis claimed the money was from him cashing in a retirement account. He was released by agents that day.
The prosecutor wrote that Sidney Police had a “known and reliable confident informant” that advised Francis Jr. was a known large trafficker of marijuana and had residences in Columbus, California, and Oregon.
On Oct. 25, defense attorney Kevin Lennen of Dayton presented a written rebuttal to the court on behalf of all three defendants. He personally represents Francis Jr. while Kyle Lennen stands for Jones, with Francis Sr. is represented by Steve Pierson of Centerville.
Lennen stated the activity by Francis Sr. does not resemble criminal activity, nor does carrying large amounts of cash. He claims it’s common for airline passengers to refrain from disclosing their destination when in possession of such amounts of cash.
He questioned the credibility of the confidential informant. He also claimed the length of time from the first trash pull to the property search would provide questionable results. Lennen also said a passerby could have discarded those items in the trash can.
He cited several points of the investigation that would not have enough “fresh” evidence to issue the search warrant. He claimed the investigators provided questionable evidence to the judge for the search warrant asking all the evidence be ruled inadmissible.
Stevenson disagreed stating sufficient information was provided to the issuing judge and denied the motion.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.