By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — AKWESASNE — A St. Regis Falls man will serve a year and a day in federal prison for having more than 120 pounds of pot when his vehicle was stopped by St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police.
Eric C. Wilson, 23, was sentenced Friday by U.S. District County Judge David Hurd after pleading guilty in January to possession with the intent to distribute 50 kilograms of marijuana.
He was stopped Jan. 28, 2010, after Tribal Police saw him crossing from the American side of the reservation to the Canadian side and back again.
Tribal Police Det. Sgt. Matthew Rourke, who is also an officer with the U.S. Division of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit, and another police officer had followed Wilson and stopped his car.
And after a search, they found three large hockey-equipment bags in the trunk stuffed with 124½ pounds of pot.
Hurd suppressed the evidence in a December 2010 hearing, saying Tribal Police stopped the vehicle 5,000 feet beyond the reservation’s boundaries and therefore had no authority to enforce the law off reservation.
He also ruled Rourke did not get the required authority from his supervising customs officer to stop the vehicle.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decisions, saying the stop was justified because the police had “probable cause to believe Wilson had entered the United States in violation of law.”
The justices also ruled there was probable cause to search the vehicle and that Rourke was a validly designated customs officer who should have followed procedure. But his actions did not rise to the level of violating Wilson’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
“This case illustrates how tribal authorities, federal law-enforcement officers and Canadian agencies all collaborate to ensure that there are no gaps in law-enforcement coverage on and around the Mohawk territory,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian in a news release.
It was of interest, as well, because state law allows St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police to make arrests only on the reservation, but its boundaries have been in question for generations and are part of a land-claims lawsuit dating back 32 years.
Akwesasne Mohawks claim New York state illegally sold off portions of the reservation hundreds of years ago without congressional approval and have been attempting to get that disputed land returned.
Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, tribal officials and officials in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties began discussions to settle the land-claims suit.
Email Denise A. Raymo:firstname.lastname@example.org