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February 29, 2012

Man who flew plane full of marijuana sentenced

Prior conviction a factor in the sentencing of 72-year-old Alaska man

JEFFERSONVILLE — A 72-year-old man was sentenced to seven years in prison after he was caught with 200 pounds of marijuana in a plane he flew into Clark Regional Airport in November.

Allen Richter, of Ketchikan, Alaska, entered a blind plea Tuesday in Clark County Circuit Court 2 related to his arrest Nov. 5. According to a probable-cause affidavit, the Indiana State Police received information from U.S. Customs officials that they had tracked a suspicious aircraft on radar from Arizona to Indiana. The plane originally departed from California and the flight plan had changed more than once.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Jake Elder said during the court proceedings Richter said his ultimate destination was Maine.

However, shortly after Richter’s plane landed at the Clark Regional Airport, Indiana State Police Trooper Nathan Abbott arrived with K-9 Kilo to search the aircraft. Kilo gave a positive alert for narcotics and a search warrant was granted by Clark County Circuit Court No. 3 Judge Joe Weber.

When police searched the plane they found three duffel bags containing more than 30 pounds of high-grade hydroponic marijuana in the back seat of the aircraft, according the affidavit. In the storage area behind the passenger compartment, seven large bags of marijuana were found. The total amount was weighed at 195 to 200 pounds.

Elder said the estimated value of the marijuana was between $450,000 to $500,000.

Surveillance was placed on Richter, who was staying overnight at the Ramada Inn in Sellersburg, and upon his return to the airport he was taken into custody.

According to the report, Richter was not the registered owner of the aircraft — a 1962 fixed-wing single-engine Piper PA-24-250 — as the plane was registered to another individual in Ketchikan. He admitted the aircraft was stolen, according to police.

As a result, Richter was charged with class C felony dealing in marijuana and class D felony maintaining a common nuisance.

The felonies carried a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison, Elder said.

Clark County Circuit Court Judge Jerry Jacobi sentenced Richter to eight years in prison, with one year suspended for the class C felony and two years, all suspended, to run consecutive for the class D felony.

His sentence totals seven years in prison and he will be placed on probation for three years after his release.

“We’re very pleased with the sentence Judge Jacobi handed down,” Elder said.

He said Jacobi took into account during the sentencing mitigating factors such as Richter’s age, poor health and admission of guilt. However, the mitigating factors were outweighed by the aggravating factors including an almost identical prior offense with that offense committed within a year of being off probation.

“In 2004, he had the exact same conviction,” Elder said.

He said Richter was convicted on federal charges of possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. He added the circumstances were very similar and Richter was caught after flying a plane into Tennessee with the drugs inside.

Richter served nearly four years in prison and was given four years of probation related to the conviction. However, he was released early from his probation — which was set to run until 2013 — on Jan. 10, 2011. Less than a year later, Richter was caught at Clark Regional Airport with marijuana concealed in an airplane.

“It would have been a very solid case for the state of Indiana to try,” Elder said. “Once you get to that type of value, that’s when the violence and everything else kind of happens. Because it’s money- and greed-driven when it gets to that value.

“This is a potential half-million dollars. Someone’s out a half-million worth of marijuana right now.”

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