BR man accused in smuggling ring free after posting bond

A federal magistrate judge says he misspoke Thursday during a bail hearing for a Baton Rouge man accused in a smuggling ring, accidentally setting Tim Minh Tran’s bail amount $90,000 lower than he intended.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger realized the error shortly after the hearing’s conclusion Thursday evening. In a document filed Friday morning in the Middle District of Louisiana’s federal courthouse, Riedlinger acknowledged the mistake, explaining that he intended to set Tran’s bail at $100,000 instead of $10,000.

“It was the court’s intention to set a bond that reflected the seriousness of the offenses charged and would be sufficient to reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant,” Riedlinger wrote in a filing detailing a clarification of Tran’s conditions of release. “It was the court’s intention to set the bond in the amount of $100,000 with a 10 percent deposit, i.e. $10,000. However, the court stated that the bond was $10,000 with a 10 percent deposit.”

Riedlinger wrote that the error was realized before Tran was presented with the bond form. Tran signed the form with the correct bail amount of $100,000, Riedlinger said.

Tran paid the $10,000 deposit on the corrected bail amount and was released about noon Friday from the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail, according to the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and federal court filings.

Tran had been held there since Tuesday after federal authorities arrested him following an indictment filed in federal court in Oklahoma alleging he participated in a smuggling scheme. Tran and others are accused of importing chemicals used to make synthetic cannabinoids — commonly described as synthetic marijuana — into the U.S. from China. The chemicals were smuggled in packages labeled fraudulently as food additives or cleaning agents, according to the four-count indictment filed in June but only recently unsealed.

Tran faces charges of conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering in the Northern District of Oklahoma, where the case is being prosecuted. There are 10 other defendants named in the indictment, including a Baton Rouge woman, a Denham Springs man, two people with ties to New Orleans and several out-of-state residents.

Tran’s defense attorney, Lance C. Unglesby, has described the government’s case against Tran as weak, adding that Tran is a legitimate businessman.

M. Patricia Jones, the assistant U.S. attorney representing the government at Thursday’s bail hearing, said prosecutors in Oklahoma intend to file a motion to revoke Tran’s bail. It was unclear Friday afternoon whether they had done so.

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.