In Virginia No Bail for Accused Ethiopian Man in 70-pound Marijuana Plot

Samson Desalegne Alemu, 31, of Springfield, was one of four people arrested April 14 as Christiansburg police ended weeks of surveillance and swooped in on an operation that investigators said connected a Northern Virginia supply chain to drug sales in two town neighborhoods. The trigger was Alemu’s arrival in a red 2019 Ford Escape that officers secretly equipped with a tracer. (Photo: Christiansburg Police Dept.)

The Roanoke Times

No bail for accused driver in 70-pound marijuana plot in Montgomery County

HRISTIANSBURG — An Ethiopian man accused of delivering 70 pounds of marijuana to a suspected dealer in Christiansburg will not be allowed free on bond, a Montgomery County judge said Thursday.

Samson Desalegne Alemu, 31, of Springfield, was one of four people arrested April 14 as Christiansburg police ended weeks of surveillance and swooped in on an operation that investigators said connected a Northern Virginia supply chain to drug sales in two town neighborhoods. The trigger was Alemu’s arrival in a red 2019 Ford Escape that officers secretly equipped with a tracer – Alemu was tracked electronically as he drove south, with officers falling in behind him as he passed Roanoke, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Wolz said at Thursday’s bond hearing.

Police seized 66 pounds of suspected marijuana from the vehicle Alemu drove and another four pounds from the townhouse in the 300 block of Oak Tree Boulevard where his trip ended, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt said.

Another pound of suspected marijuana was found at an apartment in the Christiansburg Bluff complex in the 500 block of Republic Road that allegedly also was used by accused drug seller Tomas [Alemayehu] Keno, 29, of Radford, a search warrant said.

Alemu and Keno each were charged with conspiring to distribute or to possess with the intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana, and with distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana.

Also arrested was Kayla Lynn Raines, 28, of Christiansburg, on the same two charges, and Natnael Kifle Yilma, 20, of Herndon, who was charged with the same conspiracy count and with having a firearm while involved in selling a pound of marijuana.

Keno and Yilma had already been denied bail at earlier hearings, and Raines released on a $25,000 secured bond, when Alemu appeared by a video link from the county jail Thursday in Montgomery County General District Court.

Attorney Chris Anderson of Roanoke, who represented Alemu, said his client, an Ethiopian citizen, was needed at home in Springfield, where the youngest of his two children was undergoing cancer treatment and his fianceé was recovering from her own cancer care.

“There is a substantial need for Mr. Alemu’s presence there,” Anderson said.

Alemu also has a more local community tie, with a sister living in Christiansburg, Anderson added.

Wolz countered that the scale and alleged ongoing nature of the marijuana operation argued against setting a bond, as did a 2014 conviction that Alemu had for failing to appear for a Radford court hearing.

Judge Gerald Mabe agreed with Wolz’ argument, saying that Alemu’s earlier failure to appear concerned him and the nature of the case left him unsure if Alemu would not commit other offenses if set free. Mabe said Alemu would have to remain in jail at least until his preliminary hearing, now set for Sept. 13, or he could appeal to Circuit Court and try to convince a judge there to set bail.

According to Wolz, investigators had been looking at Keno as a regional marijuana seller since March and thought that Alemu was his source. Raines is Keno’s girlfriend, and she told investigators that she stayed at the Oak Tree Boulevard townhouse and Keno helped her with expenses, Wolz said.

When officers raided the townhouse, they found more than $30,000 in cash. Much of the money was in a nightstand and Raines said it had not been there that morning, Wolz said. Among the money was $200 in marked bills that had been used in an earlier police undercover drug buy from Keno, Wolz said.

A tipster had told police that several times per week, someone was bringing 10 to 20 pounds of marijuana from Keno’s address, Wolz said.

Alemu told officers that the contraband found in the Ford Escape and in the townhouse was all his, Wolz said.

When Alemu drove to Christiansburg, he was followed by a white 2014 Ford Fusion driven by Yilma, Wolz said. Among the items in the Fusion were five bags of spice, or synthetic marijuana, Wolz said.

In an email after the hearing, Pettitt drew a sharp distinction between the alleged marijuana operation in Christiansburg and the legalization that Virginia is about to enact.

“Beginning July 1st, adults 21 years of age or older may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal use and may grow up to four plants per household,” Pettitt wrote. “However, it will be illegal to use marijuana in public or while driving. In addition distribution or sharing of marijuana in any amount over 1 ounce will continue to be illegal and a felony. We will continue to pursue distribution of marijuana cases when the amounts involved exceeds the 1 ounce authorized by the Legislature.

“In this case, the quantity involved is over 1,100 ounces and the street value is approaching $200,000.”

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