By Sarah Pridgeon
A Florida man faces multiple felony charges for allegedly attempting to smuggle almost 800 pounds of marijuana and marijuana-related products through Crook County. Michael Liegakos was arrested in late May on a tip from Montana DEA.
Wyoming Highway Patrol was contacted on May 28 by a DEA Special Agent from Billings, Montana, with information on a vehicle that was possibly involved in smuggling narcotics.
The agent shared that one of his informants had overheard a conversation in a bar in Butte. A truck driver was allegedly bragging to a waitress about hauling shipping containers from Washington and making up to $14,000 per round trip.
The driver allegedly bragged that there were no shipping papers with the load. He was described as a 60-year-old while male with gray beard and cowboy hat.
On May 29, Highway Patrol received an update from the DEA confirming the driver was heading for Long Island, New York. A trooper headed for Hwy 212 in case the truck took that route, which would allow Liegakos to bypass all ports of entry in Wyoming.
Just before 4 p.m., the trooper saw a black tractor pulling a flatbed with two blue shipping containers. He caught up to the suspect near milepost 16 and observed multiple lane use violations.
When the trooper activated his lights to initiate a traffic stop, the truck allegedly failed to yield, overtaking a semi truck instead. The suspect eventually noticed the trooper’s vehicle and pulled over to the shoulder of the roadway, where the trooper made contact with the operator and allegedly smelled a “thick, strong odor” of alcohol on his breath.
The driver informed the trooper that he did not have shipping papers for the load as the company did not give him any. He allegedly stated that he was hauling used car parts to New York from Oregon and that he makes the trip twice a month, being paid $24,000 in total for doing so.
The trooper calculated that this totals 12,000 miles each month, equating to $2 per mile.
“The average breakeven price to operate a truck is $0.36 per mile, which includes paying a driver,” he says in his report.
“$1 per mile is considered excellent pay for a load. $2 per mile is a nearly unheard of price in the trucking industry.”
Field sobriety tests and a breath sample indicated that Liegakos was double the legal blood alcohol limit for driving a vehicle and four times the legal limit for a commercial vehicle. He was placed under arrest.
The trooper ran his K-9 around the suspect vehicle. The dog allegedly appeared to detect the odor of a controlled substance near the rear of one of the shipping containers and down the entire driver side.
“It was obvious to me as her handler that she was alerting to an odor of a controlled substance,” says the trooper in his report.
As the trooper contacted his lieutenant to advise him of the situation, he saw that Liegakos was hanging out of the window of the caged area of his patrol car. The suspect was apparently in distress.
The trooper let Liegakos out of the cage and removed the handcuffs. “Liegakos was lying on the ground writhing in pain and clutching his chest, moaning that he was having a heart attack,” says the trooper’s report.
The trooper requested an ambulance, loaded the suspect into the cage and transported him eastbound to meet the ambulance. He then followed the vehicle as it was towed to the WYDOT shop in Sundance and executed a search warrant for the shipping containers.
After a cutting torch had been used to remove the padlock, the trooper noted an “overwhelming odor of marijuana and dryer sheet”. Eight large, steel tool boxes were lined up inside, each secured with padlocks that also had to be pried and broken open.
“All eight boxes contained marijuana in plant form or marijuana products ranging from THC infused liquid, THC infused edibles, THC infused vapor cartridges for vapor pens and butane hash oil,” says the trooper in his report.
In total, 372 pounds of plant material, 254 pounds of vapor pen cartridges, 141.5 pounds of edibles and 18.7 pounds of THC-infused liquid was seized. Liegakos was also found to have multiple prior lifetime convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Liegakos has been charged with two felony counts of possession of a controlled substance and one felony count of possession with intent to deliver, all carrying maximum penalties of five years’ incarceration, a $10,000 fine or both. He has also been charged with one misdemeanor count of driving while under the influence, second offense.