A Salt Lake air traffic controller "violated the public trust" by involvement with smuggling cocaine by aircraft across the U.S.-Mexican border, an assistant U.S. attorney charged Tuesday afternoon.
"He was distributing approximately a kilogram of cocaine a week," Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Dance said of David A. Peterson, the controller. Whether Peterson should remain behind bars pending his April 3 trial was the subject of a hearing before U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene.Dance said Peterson's crimes relate to his official duties as an air traffic controller. Controllers are employees of the Federal Aviation Administration.
In January, Peterson and Robert E. Staich were indicted by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, distributing a pound of cocaine and distributing 2 kilograms of the illegal drug.
The indictment charges the drug offenses occurred between Jan. 12 and Jan. 24.
Kristine K. Smith, Peterson's lawyer, protested a ruling that her client must remain in jail awaiting trial. Greene said she can present evidence Wednesday afternoon about why Peterson should be released in the interim.
"Over the past year or so, this defendant was employed as a partner . . . in air smuggling activity over the Mexican-American border," Dance said.
He charged that Peterson indicated to undercover agents he had provided some information relating to his job to smugglers.
In addition, Dance said, Peterson said he could in the future give sensitive information about the location of radar intended to interdict smugglers, as well as transponder frequencies and how to check aircraft for transponders.
"He bragged about having access to sensitive information" and said he could go to any air traffic tower near the Mexican border and get sensitive information, Dance said.
"Even (with) the knowledge he has in his head, should he be released . . . he could still pose a danger to the community in that regard."
The prosecutor said the one-pound quantity of cocaine was 97 percent pure. The two kilograms "tested out at 99 percent pure" and had never been opened, he said. The package was apparently from Colombia, Dance said.
He added that both Peterson and Staich were involved in modifying a twin-engine aircraft in Texas for smuggling drugs across the border.
"Finally, he has a cocaine habit which again indicates instability in terms of his future status, were he to be released," Dance said.
Smith said she would put on rebuttal testimony Wednesday afternoon.