ATHENS, OH (WCMH) –Two Canadian citizens are being held in the custody of U.S. Marshals, facing federal drug possession charges after investigators found nearly 300 pounds of cocaine on board their plane.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol released a photo Thursday of the seizure, made after a plane landed without authorization at Ohio University’s Gordon K. Bush airport in Albany, Ohio Wednesday afternoon. In total, 132 bundles of white powder were found. The total seizure weighed in at nearly 300 pounds and the powder was determined to be cocaine.
“I would say this is one of, if not the, largest single seizures in the history of this district,” said Benjamin C. Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
According to federal court documents, the pilot of the plane, Sylvain Desjardins, 57, and passenger David Ayotte, 46, are both Canadian citizens with prior drug convictions in that country. The plane made an unexpected landing at the airport in Athens County on Wednesday, and Desjardins told investigators there was a mechanical problem with the plane.
Court documents reveal that Customs and Border Patrol in Riverside, California began monitoring the plane, which departed from the Bahamas and was on a flight path to Windsor, Ontario. CBP notified local law enforcement of what was happening, and federal and local law enforcement worked together to meet the plane at the airport in Athens County and figure out what to do next.
Desjardins and Ayotte appeared in federal court in Columbus Thursday afternoon before Judge Norah McCann King. Ayotte listened as a French-speaking interpreter translated the judge’s comments for him. Each man faces the most serious federal drug possession charge, possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.
Glassman said it was not uncommon for drugs to travel from Caribbean countries to other nations, though he couldn’t say whether the cocaine in this case would have been taken to the U.S. He said investigators and prosecutors would continue to look into this case and find out if there were more people involved other than the two occupants of the plane.
“Certainly when you have an unexpected landing of such a large quantity here, we would hope that there’ll be further investigation that will lead us to further possible suspects, targets and that sort of thing,” Glassman said.
A detention hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 3 at 3 p.m. to discuss whether bail should be set. The attorney for the government said both men are flight risks and dangers to the community. The public defender’s office will represent Desjardins, and a court-appointed attorney will also be named for Ayotte. Both men said they want the court to notify Canada of their arrests and charges.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 13, although the judge said the hearing may not happen if a grand jury returns an indictment sooner than that or if the men decide to waive their hearings.
If convicted on the charges, each man could face ten years to life in prison, as well as fines up to $10 million.