Attorneys claim police needed warrant to search plane at BR airport

Vincenzo “Vincent” Salzano
Vincenzo “Vincent” Salzano

Attorneys for a Colorado businessman in federal custody since his October arrest at Metro Airport said Friday they’re contesting the search of the man’s private plane that uncovered nearly 72 pounds of cocaine worth $1 million.

“There was not a search warrant that was issued,” Jim Boren, one of Vincenzo “Vincent” Salzano’s lawyers, said outside U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Bourgeois Jr.’s courtroom after Bourgeois explained the federal charges to a shackled Salzano.

Salzano, 55, of Aurora, Colo., was indicted Jan. 9 by a federal grand jury in Baton Rouge on one count each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Bourgeois, who scheduled Salzano’s arraignment for Feb. 7, also informed him that authorities intend to seek the forfeiture of his Beechcraft 58P twin-engine plane if he is convicted.

Salzano; his son, Armando Salzano; and son-in-law, Mohammad I. Nekouie, were arrested Oct. 7 after federal agents searched the plane that had stopped in Baton Rouge to refuel on its way to Atlanta.

Armando Salzano, 32, of Littleton, Colo., pleaded guilty Jan. 13 to drug charges in the case and is awaiting sentencing May 15. He faces up to five years in prison.

“His guilty plea does not complicate our motion to suppress (the seized cocaine) at all,” said Marci Blaize, who also represents Vincent Salzano.

A criminal complaint filed against Nekouie on Oct. 10 was dismissed in early January at the government’s request.

Court documents indicate the plane’s suspicious flight plan alerted federal agents and prompted the search of the plane when it stopped in Baton Rouge. The plane had flown from Atlanta to the McAllen, Texas, area near the border with Mexico, and remained in south Texas for just three hours before turning around and stopping in Baton Rouge to refuel.

Agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrived at Metro Airport as the plane was pulling into the Executive Aviation area.

Agents explained to Vincent Salzano their concerns about drugs being smuggled across the Mexican border. He allowed the agents to search the plane and their initial sweep turned up nothing, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge.

At some point, both Salzanos went to use the restroom. Meanwhile, agents walked around the plane and, peering through a window, noticed a black gym bag in the aisle of the passenger area. The bag contained several “kilo-size bundles” wrapped in tape that tested positive for cocaine.

A Baton Rouge Police Department K-9 dog later sniffed out a second gym bag packed with cocaine behind a seat in the rear of the plane.

After returning from the bathroom, Vincent Salzano told the agents that “no one else on the plane knew anything about it,” the criminal complaint states.

“It’s all mine,” the elder Salzano told agents searching the aircraft, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge.

The plane’s 23-year-old pilot, who was not arrested, told authorities he had been suspicious of his passengers but claimed he was unaware he was transporting narcotics.

Vincent Salzano, who has a previous conviction for distribution of cocaine, faces up to life in prison and $20 million in fines if convicted on both counts.