Guilty by election

Sure it was his truck, but he was only hauling the roller and didn't know anything about the packages or how they got inside the roller. After all he was 65 years old and had never been in trouble. Surely, they would know he was telling the truth.

By René Tankersley, courtesy of LAND LINE MAGAZINE

OOIDA member Alan Dilts' voice cracked when he talked about how his life has changed in the past two years. "The government that I've always loved turned against me. That hurts." You could hear the strain in his voice as he swallowed hard and unsuccessfully fought back tears.
The Odessa, MO, owner-operator lost his tractor-trailer rig to the government and spent his retirement savings on attorneys. Finally, he lost his freedom when he was sentenced to 30 months in the Federal Prison Camp at Leavenworth, KS, for hauling a steamroller with 556 pounds of marijuana sealed inside the roller drum. He has now served five months.

When he was arrested Feb. 12, 1999, Alan told investigators he did not know the drugs were inside the steamroller. According to Alan, investigators and even his own attorneys were convinced he simply "elected" not to know the drugs were there. His attorney convinced him to plead guilty or face a possible five-year to 40-year prison sentence if he lost in a jury trial.

Wearing his prison khakis, a much thinner and older-looking Alan described how he first hauled equipment for a Mexican gentleman through Consolidated Transfer & Warehouse Co. Inc. where he was a leased owner-operator out of Kansas City. The man told Alan to call him anytime he needed a load and maybe he would have one. Later, he hauled loads for the man when he didn't have a load with his regular carrier. The first two loads were farm machinery and the last six loads were steamrollers. Loads usually were hauled both ways between Texas border towns and Chicago. The last steamroller was headed from El Paso to Weatherford, TX. It was a short haul, but for Alan it was better than sitting.

As Alan was making his way from El Paso to Weatherford, TX, on Interstate 20 near exit 272, he saw the officer cross over the median and pull up beside him. Then he backed off, then pulled beside him again. The officer turned out to be a member of the West Texas Inter-Local Drug Task Force and he signaled Alan to pull over. The eagle-eyed officer told Alan he was being stopped for a dirty license plate and no state name on the door of his truck. He asked if he could check the load. Alan replied, "Of course." It was a single-drop flatbed, and Alan says "what you see is what I'm hauling."

The experienced drug intervention officer climbed up on the trailer, tire iron in hand, and began to scrape what appeared to be concrete off the roller drum of the paving machine. The officer knew what he would find under the splattered camouflage. He soon uncovered a patch and started prying at it with the tire iron. Alan offered to get him a chisel and hammer, which he had in the storage compartment. The officer accepted these tools and pried off the patch. As soon as the patch was removed the officer saw packages of what he said was marijuana.

When asked about the packages, Alan told investigators the packages had been placed inside the roller without his knowledge. He had walked around the trailer and looked at the roller from the other side and had seen nothing that he thought looked out of line. Police told him that the hole had been cut with a torch, the cutout replaced and sealed with Bond-O and then the roller coated with speckling compound that dried to look like concrete. The officer explained to Alan that it was not uncommon to haul drugs this way.

Alan watched in disbelief as the officers unloaded armfuls of duct-taped plastic packages from the roller and laid them on the back of the trailer. The officers read Alan his rights and asked if he wanted a lawyer, but he declined. He thought he had nothing to hide. How could they doubt him? Sure it was his truck, but he was only hauling the roller and didn't know anything about the packages or how they got inside the roller. After all he was 65 years old and had never been in trouble. Surely, they would know he was telling the truth.

"I didn't realize the seriousness of the situation I was in," Alan said. "I thought, they'll find out who it belongs to and go after them."

While being questioned, one of the officers told Alan that with the amount of drugs found he was looking at 10 years to life due to the federal mandatory drug laws. Alan could not convince them that he did not know the drugs were there. He was now beginning to realize he had made a mistake by not asking for an attorney, but it was too late now.

Dad's in big trouble

Meanwhile at home, his fiancé Dorothy Peppers was getting worried. "I was afraid he had been in an accident because he never missed a night of calling, and it was now two days since I had heard from him," Dorothy recalls. "About 10 a.m., the phone in my office began to ring. It was a lady wanting financial information on Al and other personal information."

"At first, I was shocked and started to answer, and then decided the questions were too personal. I needed to know what was going on. The woman on the other end of the line was a bit testy and wouldn't give any information. After a few moments, I convinced her that it was a give-and-take proposition. At that time the woman said Al was being detained in Abilene and there was no way I could contact him, and he could not call me.

"As soon as the call ended, I called Alan's son and told him what I knew and asked if he knew a lawyer in Texas and how we could find out what was going on. He said he would check with his attorney and get the name of a lawyer in Texas and see what he could find out. After what seemed like an eternity, Alan's son called and said he had gotten the name of a federal lawyer in Texas and had spoken to his dad. He confirmed that Alan was in big trouble. He thought one of us should fly to Lubbock, where his dad had been transferred. It was decided he should go, as I would need to be here to wire funds for a bond and a lawyer, if needed.

"I was sure it was all a big mistake. Alan hated drugs and had even had a discussion with one of my family members about taking over-the-counter drugs, and this had caused big problems between the two of them. I knew Alan would be all right and that he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

"The next morning, the call came. It was Al's son, 'Dad is in big trouble. He has lost his truck and trailer, and he is looking at 10 years.' I almost lost it. He said the lawyer wanted $20,000 and thought he could get him out on bond. We made arrangements to send the money, as the attorney would do nothing until he got it.

"The lawyer said he was called so late that all he could do was damage control. Even though Alan did not know the drugs were there, he would not be able to prove he didn't know it. Therefore, according to the law, since he hauled it and did not completely check the load that he had 'elected' not to know they were there. The lawyer told Alan that he was looking at 10 years to life, then later he said 10-40 years. He told Alan to sign a statement saying he didn't want to know they were there. This we later discovered was very bad advice.

"Alan was informed the best he could hope for was a plea bargain. After a long couple of days, Alan was released on a signature bond and returned home with his son.

"We were informed that Al's truck was guilty. Hard to believe a truck can be guilty, but we were told that the truck was charged with transporting drugs, and since they were on the trailer, the truck was automatically guilty. It was seized and would be sold. There was no trial for the truck."

The plea bargain

Dorothy continued telling how Alan's attorneys handled his situation. "One day the lawyer called and told Alan he needed to come down and talk over a plea bargain. He had arranged for Alan to do 30 to 36 months in a camp. He explained that it was the best that could be done because if Alan went to trial he would have to prove that he did not know the drugs were there. How do you prove you did not know something?

"From February 1999 to August 2000, we prayed for a miracle. Alan found a job driving the Midwest for a truck line and was beginning to relax. He had to report weekly to a pre-trial officer, do drug call-in three times a week and random drug testing.

"On August 11,1999, we got a letter from the lawyer saying that he felt Al's case had fallen between the cracks and to just keep quiet. We thought we had gotten our miracle, but not all miracles last. On February 8, 2000, the lawyer sent us another letter advising us that on February 15 the grand jury would pass their indictment, and we would be notified of the trial date. On March 10, our attorney informed us that the case would be heard on May l.

"Al and I talked, and I finally convinced him that he would not have open-heart surgery without a second opinion, so why trust our future to one man. We checked the Internet for an attorney who practiced federal drug law in Texas and thought we had found one with good credentials. He advertised the first visit was free. So we called and made an appointment for the following Monday, April 24. We drove down and met with him. He checked the paperwork we had, talked to Alan and I and then checked to see what motions had been filed. He came back and told us the first lawyer did not file a disclosure motion and some other things.

"He also said Alan should be able to do six months in a military-style boot camp, six months at a halfway house and the rest of the time as home confinement. He was also going to ask for voluntary surrender, so Alan could turn himself in at the camp and not be taken directly from the courtroom. This sounded better; so we hired him for a mere $30,000. He got the case postponed for a month before the plea was entered, so he could file the motions."

At the hearing on August 31, 2000, Alan expected that he would be allowed to voluntarily surrender to a boot camp. But he was "too stable" and did not require the discipline of a boot camp. Instead, Alan was sentenced to 30 months in the Federal Prison Camp at Leavenworth.

Hard lessons learned from another's mistakes

As Gary Green (OOIDA's Business Services department), and I signed the visitors' log at the prison camp, I saw a gentlemen dressed in prison khakis standing against the white wall looking at us. The man I thought was a stranger was actually Alan Dilts. I didn't recognize this clean-shaven Alan that looked much thinner and at least 10 years older than the photographs I had previously seen of him with long bushy sideburns. The prison camp administrator and the penitentiary executive assistant led us into a visiting room set up for our interview. As we sat in the stiff wooden chairs, Gary began asking Alan about the events that brought him to the prison camp. I turned on my tape recorder and began writing notes and just listened to these two truckers talking back and forth about what warning signs were there and why Alan didn't notice something was terribly wrong with the loads he hauled. When Alan Dilts hauled all those loads of equipment, he never suspected he was hauling anything other than the equipment. "I never suspected anything," Alan said. "If I would have had any suspicion, I'd never have hauled it. I can't believe now I was so naive. I never expected anything like this to happen. I was just too trusting." Alan hopes other drivers will learn from his mistake. "Be careful and listen to warning signals. Don't blow them off like I did," Alan said.

These are some of the warning signs:

  • No paperwork or bill of lading was issued for the load.
  • The driver received cash payments, sometimes in advance, for hauling the loads.
  • Instructions said to meet an individual at a truckstop to arrange for unloading.
  • The load was loaded or unloaded in a residential area.
  • The driver was asked to run hot loads around the company (meaning the owner-operator accepts a load from a shipper without the carrier's knowledge).

Alan says if he had a suspicious load, he would first call his company for advice. If he had already picked up the load and became suspicious, he would still call his company first, then contact a highway patrolman. He says don't call the local "Barneys" because they are not as professional as the State Highway Patrol.

Alan also has some advice for drivers if authorities ever do find contraband in their load. "Don't say anything. Get an attorney."

©2001 - Reprinted with permission of Land Line Magazine.