The Ottumwa Courier

January 10, 2013

Search warrants proved valid in drug trafficking case

Jury trial for Eldon man set for March 19

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

ELDON — The efforts of an Eldon man to question the validity of search warrants used to arrest him on drug charges were denied last month.

On Dec. 17, the court reviewed 51-year-old Ronald Wayne Conrad’s motion to suppress four search warrants and items seized during those searches last year.

Last February, Sgt. Jason Bell of the Southeast Iowa Inter-Agency Drug Task Force received information from another officer that Conrad had just purchased 70 pounds of marijuana in a controlled buy in Polk County, for which he paid $65,000 in cash. During his arrest, officers learned he was from Eldon.

Bell applied for a search warrant for Conrad’s Eldon home. He also helped in executing the search warrant on Feb. 17, 2012. Bell and fellow officers found approximately 613.69 grams of marijuana packaged separately. They also found other items consistent with marijuana sales and large sums of cash of more than $43,000.

Paperwork seized showed Conrad hadn not filed a tax return for the last three years, hadn’t shown any legitimate income during that time and had purchased expensive items with cash.

It also showed that Conrad had bank accounts in multiple savings banks and a safety deposit box.

This discovery led to a second search warrant on Feb. 18, 2012, for Conrad’s accounts and records at Farmers and Traders Savings Bank, Edward D. Jones and Wells Fargo.

A third search warrant applied to Conrad’s farm in Jefferson County and a fourth search warrant on Feb. 22, 2012, applied to Conrad’s safety deposit box at Wells Fargo.

Conrad alleged that the searches conducted on his property were without probable cause, non-consensual and unlawful in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. He also alleged that the seizure of certain items was “fruit of the poisonous tree,” which refers to the legal principle that any evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search may not be later relied upon to obtain further evidence, and that such further evidence — the “poisonous fruit” — must also be suppressed.

The burden of proving that the warrants were not valid falls on the person questioning their validity, in this case, Conrad.

While Conrad correctly said that mere drug possession is not enough to warrant a search of his house, the analysis changes when officers suspect a person of not just possession but drug trafficking.

In making its determination of the warrant’s validity, the court found that the first application for Conrad’s house contained seven specifically asserted facts to support the link between the suspected crime, the place to be searched and the item to be seized.

“Certainly the facts asserted above give rise to the reasonable belief that [Conrad] was a drug dealer. ... Common sense would indicate that a person who takes delivery of 70 pounds of commercial grade marijuana is not intending such marijuana for mere personal use,” according to court documents. “It does not stretch the imagination to believe that someone who is dealing with 70 pounds of marijuana is going to be storing the accoutrements of his trade somewhere, and his home would certainly be the most likely spot for such items.

“In addition to the information contained in the original search warrant, such incriminating evidence provides the basis for every other search warrant and investigative subpoena issued in this case.”

In the end, the court found that each search warrant was supported by probable cause, and the items seized could not be suppressed.

Conrad was originally charged with ongoing criminal conduct,  a controlled substance violation and failure to affix tax stamp during the February 2012 controlled buy in Polk County.

His jury trial is scheduled for March 19.