BROOKSVILLE (FOX 13) - A small aircraft carrying around $350,000 of marijuana landed at the Brooksville airport Monday, setting off an investigation involving law enforcement agencies from the local sheriff to Homeland Security.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office is now looking for the two men they say flew the Beech Baron twin engine plane from the west coast to Florida.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Neinhuis said in a news conference Thursday, four large bags containing almost 200 pounds of marijuana, the aircraft and a pickup truck had been seized as part of the investigation. Street value of the seized pot was estimated to be worth between $300,000 and $350,000.
It all started Monday night with what the sheriff said was a surprise call from Homeland Security officials at around 10:30. They asked for help with a plane landing at the Brooksville airport, saying the plane was "acting suspiciously."
Neinhuis said his office keeps a close watch on the airport, and keeps a deputy nearby, so they sent the nearest deputy over to check it out. When she arrived, the deputy said the plane had been parked in a hangar, which was being closed as she arrived.
When backup got there, they found Joshua Overton and Aaron Andris leaving the hangar. The sheriff said the two were not cooperative and would not let officers search the hangar. While law enforcement, including Homeland Security, worked to get a search warrant for the hangar, the men asked if they were free to leave. With no cause to hold them, officers let them go.
The search warrant was approved and executed around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. After finding the large amount of pot, the sheriff said they began to investigate the two men. Records show Overton owns the plane and rented the hangar. He is from the St. Petersburg area and does not have a criminal past.
Andris is from Chico, California and also had a clean criminal history. Both men are wanted for trafficking marijuana, possession of a conveyance (the aircraft), and possession of paraphernalia. The sheriff said if they are caught, or preferably turn themselves in, they will be held under a $41,000 bond each.
Sheriff Neinhuis said he was not sure if this was an isolated incident for the Brooksville airport, or if the two men had flow drugs in before, adding, "It's probably not the first time they've been involved in drug smuggling."
"I don't think drug traffickers really have a set way of doing things and that's why sometimes it makes them a little difficult," the sheriff said. "We do spend a lot of time monitoring the airport... and try to have a unit in the area most of the time."
The sheriff said anyone with information about where the two men are may contact Crime Stoppers and be eligible for a cash reward up to $1,000.
At the news conference, Senator Wilton Simpson (R-District 10) was on hand to say he appreciated the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
"This is two in a row. Last month we had a major bust and now this month we have marijuana. The sheriff is saving lots of lives here. There are a lot of sheriff's in our area that are known for being tough on crime. The state is willing to a partner with the sheriff any time."
Sheriff Neinhuis thanked The Lake County Sheriff's Office, agents with Customs and Border Enforcement, Federal Aviation Administration officers from Orlando and Atlanta, Georgia, and Homeland Security officials for help with the investigation.