Judge doesn't buy pot smuggler's story
By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor
An admitted drug smuggler's claims that a camper trailer and motor home were used only for recreation and not for illegal activities is "simply not credible," according to an order by District Judge Michael Prezeau granting forfeiture of the property to local law enforcement authorities.
Prezeau called it "an extreme coincidence" that the trailer and motor home owned by Donald Cramer of Rathdrum, Idaho, would just happen to be parked at a campground 20 miles from the site on Lake Koocanusa where Cramer and a partner met a floatplane loaded with more than 400 pounds of marijuana last summer.
Cramer, 61, pleaded guilty in December to federal conspiracy charges and agreed to testify against an accomplice, David E. Newcomb, 55, also of northern Idaho. Newcomb was found guilty in federal court in Missoula last month on drug charges. Both men remain to be sentenced.
The two men were arrested last Aug. 17 after authorities received a report of an unauthorized floatplane entering the United States from Canada and landing on Lake Koocanusa. Newcomb was driving a pickup truck registered in Cramer's name and loaded with 414 pounds of marijuana.
At a hearing earlier this month, Cramer acknowledged picking up one previous load of marijuana on Lake Koocanusa along with several others in northern Idaho last summer. He denied that he had used either the camper or motor home as a staging area, however.
Cramer admitted that he had been at the campsite the night before he was arrested but said he had just sat around a fire and never went into either the camper or motor home. He said he had only used the site for fishing and camping trips unconnected with smuggling.
In his ruling, Prezeau noted that when searched by law enforcement officers after Cramer's arrest, the motor home was unlocked and a cooler containing beverages was found nearby. It seems likely that Cramer had been planning to return to at least take care of the cooler and lock the door, Prezeau wrote.
"To believe that the motor home and camper trailer were not used as part of the staging area for the smuggling operation would require the suspension of common sense and blind belief in the testimony of a convicted drug smuggler who has admitted giving false information about his smuggling activities and who has a financial motive to lie," Prezeau concluded.
It will be up to Sheriff Daryl Anderson to decide whether to keep the camper and/or motor home for use by the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office or to put the vehicles up for auction with the proceeds to go into the office's drug enforcement fund, said LCSO Detective Lt. Jim Sweet.
The truck that was used to haul the estimated $2.5 million worth of marijuana has already been forfeited in federal court, Sweet said.
"It's my understanding that we've just got to make arrangements and go get it," he said.