Baton Rouge man pleads not guilty in federal smuggling case

A Baton Rouge man pleaded not guilty Monday in Oklahoma to federal charges of smuggling, conspiracy and money laundering stemming from a multi-state investigation into the alleged importation of chemicals used to make drugs commonly described as synthetic marijuana.

Tim Tran, 42, entered the plea of not guilty Monday afternoon during an arraignment at a federal courthouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tran, along with 10 other people from around the country, including several from Louisiana, are accused of importing chemicals into the United States from China in packages marked with false labels.

Federal authorities in Baton Rouge arrested Tran on July 15, the same day they raided his Centurion Avenue mansion and his Florida Boulevard business, Tim’s Wholesale. It also was the same day Tran pleaded guilty in state district court to one count of possession with intent to distribute Schedule I drugs, for which he received a sentence of one year of probation.

Several days later, a federal magistrate judge in Baton Rouge set Tran’s bail at $100,000. During the hearing, the magistrate described the case presented by prosecutors against Tran as weak. Tran posted bail July 18 in the form of a $10,000 cash deposit and was released from the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail.

Prosecutors in Oklahoma’s Northern District, where the case originated and is being handled, asked a judge this week to delay trial until next summer while investigators pore over hundreds of thousands of documents, some of which were seized during the raids in Baton Rouge, according to federal court filings.

Trial was set for Aug. 18. But on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan granted the prosecutors’ wish, setting a new trial date of May 11, 2015, according to an order filed in federal court.

In the order, Eagan explained that the complexity of the case merited the continuance, which prosecutors said was needed to examine more than 100,000 pages worth of documents related to the investigation. The authorities also must examine at least 350 documents, containing an unknown number of pages, collected along with 15 computers during the Baton Rouge raids, prosecutors said in the filings.

Tran’s defense attorney, Lance C. Unglesby, argued during his client’s July 17 bail hearing that Tran was a family man who only sold certain synthetic cannabinoids, also described generically as synthetic marijuana, when it was legal to sell them. During the hearing, Unglesby also attacked prosecutors’ allegations that Tran knowingly ordered the labels of the imported packages changed, questioning how prosecutors could prove the decision wasn’t made overseas without Tran’s knowledge.

Ariel Nicole Robinson Dunn, 21, a Baton Rouge woman charged in the indictment, also pleaded not guilty to charges of smuggling, conspiracy and money laundering in Oklahoma on Monday.

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.