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California man convicted in drug conspiracy after trying to smuggle meth in carry-on bag
He was attempted to bring meth to Iowa for trafficking ring
CEDAR RAPIDS — A man who was arrested in a California airport while trying to conceal 5 pounds of methamphetamine in his carry-on bag to bring with him to Iowa pleaded guilty this week in federal court.
Kiyonte L. Sowell, 21, of Los Angeles, Calif., was convicted in U.S. District Court of one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. He was indicted with 10 others who were charged with distributing ice meth from 2018 through March 2022.
Early this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration was conducting a wiretap investigation into a meth trafficking ring in Cedar Rapids, according to federal prosecutors. On Feb. 28, Sowell went to the Los Angeles International Airport to take a flight to Cedar Rapids.
Sowell brought a large roller bag and attempted to take the bag through security as his carry-on luggage, according to the plea. Airport security searched the bag and found about 2,211 grams of meth and arrested Sowell.
During the plea hearing, Sowell admitted he conspired with others in Iowa to distribute the drugs. He is the first to plead in the trafficking operation. The others have trials set in February.
One of his co-conspirators, Christopher Eric Curley, 29, of Cedar Rapids, was convicted earlier this year in Linn County District Court for breaking into a home, assaulting a man with a vacuum attachment and posting a video of it on Facebook. He pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and assault causing bodily injury and sentenced in February to 10 years in prison.
A court document regarding Curley’s federal detention provides more information of the drug conspiracy alleged in the indictment.
The drug trafficking ring was led by David Poitier Belton, 36, of Cedar Rapids, also charged in the conspiracy, who transported large quantities of meth — between 30 and 60 pounds per trip — from California to Cedar Rapids, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Chatham said in his detention motion.
In October 2020, authorities were notified by a commercial vehicle hauler there was a “suspicious” vehicle being hauled from Arizona to Cedar Rapids, according to the motion. The vehicle, a 2012 Volkwagen Passat, was registered to Belton. Authorities obtained consent to search the car and found about 30 pounds of “nearly 100 percent pure meth” in a concealed compartment.
Law enforcement replaced the meth with a package containing rock salt, resealed the compartment and sent it on to Cedar Rapids, according to the court document. Curley arrived to retrieve the car and officers saw him go in and out of the car before throwing the keys into the car and walking away from it.
Curley was then picked up by another vehicle, but officers stopped that vehicle after they looked into the Passat and saw the package was opened and was sitting in view in the interior of the vehicle.
Authorities said Curley admitted he knew the Passat was supposed to contain 30 pounds of meth and was coming from Arizona, the court document stated. Curley wasn’t arrested that day.
The DEA conducted a wiretap investigation of Belton and his associates in late 2021 through early this year, Chatham said in the motion. During that investigation, Curley was repeatedly intercepted talking with one of Belton’s traffickers, Derek Michael Mims, 31, of Cedar Rapids, was also charged in the conspiracy.
Chatham said the conversations included Curley getting meth from, and sometimes, supplying meth to Mims. Curley also mentioned in one call that he also received drugs through the mail.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams will sentence Sowell after a presentencing report is completed. Sowell remains in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending sentencing.
Sowell faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and possibly up to life in prison and lifetime supervised release following any prison term.
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