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Uintah County Jail
Randall Patrick Watson, of Meridian, Idaho, has been ordered to serve 50 months on federal probation and pay a $25,000 fine for his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Watson was arrested Nov. 12, 2013, after police in Vernal found 180 pounds of marijuana in his plane at Vernal Regional Airport.

SALT LAKE CITY — An Idaho pilot caught at a Utah airport with 180 pounds of marijuana in his small plane has been sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a fine.

Randall Patrick Watson, of Meridian, Idaho, was facing a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine Monday when he stood before U.S. District Judge David Nuffer. Instead, Nuffer put Watson on probation for 50 months and imposed a $25,000 fine, according to court records.

Watson, 57, pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. In court documents filed as part of his plea, Watson admitted that he transported marijuana from a farm in California to distribution points in Utah and other states.

On Nov. 12, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents tipped off authorities in Uintah County about a "suspicious aircraft" that was expected to land at Vernal Regional Airport, court records show.

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A sheriff's deputy made contact with Watson when he landed, and a police K-9 was called in. The dog indicated there were drugs in the plane, court records state. Uintah Basin Narcotics Strike Force agents later found about 180 pounds of marijuana in four duffel bags stowed inside Watson's Cessna 182E Skylane.

As part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Watson forfeited his interest in the plane. Prosecutors also agreed to recommend a sentence at the lower end of the federal guidelines based on Watson's continued willingness to accept responsibility for his actions.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik