There was plenty of in-flight entertainment, but the layover in Texas was a real comedown.
San Francisco residents Michael Gallanter, 48, and Ethan Oliver Wynne-Wade, 31, each face up to 20 years in federal prison for allegedly trafficking 152 pounds of marijuana, nearly 9 pounds of hashish and 3 pounds of psychedelic mushrooms on a rented single-engine plane bound for Atlanta earlier this year.
Both men pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of intent to distribute marijuana in connection with the April 17 bust in Lubbock, Texas, where they had stopped to refuel, said U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña of the Northern District of Texas.
Suspicions arose when the men paid cash to fuel the Piper Cherokee airplane and fueled the plane without assistance. The aircraft also contained a suspiciously large number of bags in the passenger compartment and had taken flight in poor weather conditions, Saldaña said.
Agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency were tipped off to the suspicious plane. They reportedly discovered it had been rented by Gallanter from the Travis Air Force Base Aero Club in Rio Vista. They also learned from the business that Gallanter had been violating flight rules and procedures.
Gallanter filed a flight plan from Northern California to Atlanta, which agents used to track the plane. On April 17, officials said, the plane departed California and first stopped in Page, Ariz., to refuel. Agents caught up to the plane about 10:15 p.m. that night when it landed a second time to refuel at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in Texas.
While Gallanter provided agents with the appropriate paperwork, police dogs reportedly sniffed out the drugs. After a search by federal agents, six large military-style duffle bags and four smaller bags were located inside the passenger compartment, officials said.
After he was detained, according to an arrest affidavit, Gallanter told federal agents that he didn't know what the cargo was and that "a guy he met" at a California coffee shop had asked him to deliver the duffel bags to Atlanta.
A sentencing date was not set Thursday. Along with 20 years in federal prison, the men could also face a $1 million fine, officials said.