Deportation Officer Ordered Held in Pot Smuggling Case
PHOENIX — A federal deportation officer accused of leading authorities on a high-speed desert chase as he threw bundles of marijuana from his government truck was ordered Tuesday to remain behind bars by a judge who said the officer “took an oath and ignored it.”Jason Alistair Lowery, 34, is a flight risk and danger to the community, and should remain imprisoned, federal magistrate Edward Voss said at a hearing.
Lowery was a deportation officer with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement before his Oct. 18 arrest.At the hearing, Lowery sat quietly in an orange prison jumpsuit, shackled at the wrists and ankles, as his attorney entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to one count each of marijuana possession for distribution, conspiracy to possess marijuana for distribution, and possession of a firearm in a drug-trafficking crime.
Voss set Lowery’s trial date for Dec. 6. If convicted of all counts, Lowery could face 10 years to life in prison.
Lowery’s attorney, Rebecca Felmly, declined to comment.
Lowery was under surveillance by state police and federal agents last week when authorities say he picked up a load of marijuana in his government-issued truck during a sting operation. A 45-minute chase at speeds up to 110 mph ended when the truck rolled just south of Sacaton, about 40 miles outside of Phoenix.
During the chase, Lowery threw a non-government-issued gun and 10 bundles of marijuana out of a window, authorities said. Four bundles allegedly remained in the truck.
A confidential informant told a Department of Homeland Security investigator on Oct. 4 that Lowery was part of a “rip” crew and used his status in law enforcement to help steal marijuana from illegal immigrants, according to a criminal complaint.
The informant agreed to call Lowery and arrange for him to pick up 500 pounds (226 kilograms) of pot in the desert on Oct. 18, wrote Brian Gamberg-Bonilla, a special agent with the DPS Office of Investigations.
Prosecutor John Lopez argued Tuesday that Lowery must remain imprisoned, saying he “betrayed his trust to society as a law enforcement officer” and acknowledged to investigators that he was involved in five or six successful drug smuggling transactions before his arrest.
Lopez also said that Lowery has been addicted to the powerful painkiller Oxycontin for more than a year and no longer has income from ICE because of the allegations against him, making him even more of a flight risk.
Felmly argued that Lowery should be released as his court case proceeds, saying he could be monitored by an electronic device while staying with his wife in their Chandler home. The lawyer also said he was never convicted of a crime.
Voss rejected Felmly’s arguments and ordered Lowery detained.
“No danger to the community?” the magistrate asked. “(The prosecutor) just told me about a 45-minute, up to 100 mph chase, bundles of marijuana coming out of the vehicle, guns going out the window. How do you, in light of those allegations, sit there and tell me the defendant is not a flight risk?”
Voss said that Lowery “took an oath and ignored it.”
“If these allegations are true, they establish his total lack of character,” the magistrate said.
Lowery worked as a deportation agent in ICE’s fugitive operations team, which targets illegal immigrants who fail to leave the country after they’re ordered to be deported. Such officers carry weapons and have arrest powers. Lowery previously worked for the Border Patrol.