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Plane full of pot grounded at Reading Regional Airport, police say

Published On: Mar 20 2013 10:40:46 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 21 2013 05:20:42 AM CDT

A pilot and three of his passengers were taken into custody after marijuana was discovered aboard a small plane that landed at Reading Regional Airport on Tuesday, said investigators.

BERN TWP., Pa. -

A pilot and three of his passengers were taken into custody after marijuana, with an estimated street value of $300,000, was discovered aboard a small plane that landed at Reading Regional Airport on Tuesday, said investigators.

"I'm absolutely shocked at that. I can't even believe it happened," said Leah Martz, who works at Malibooz Bar and Grill inside the airport.

The Pennsylvania State Police Central Interdiction Unit said it received a tip from a federal law enforcement agency that the twin-engine Cessna was due to arrive at the airport in Bern Twp., Berks Co., at 3 p.m.

The plane was the subject of suspicious travel patterns, according to court documents.

"The plane stopped to refuel and our people approached the four people that were in the airplane," said Tpr. David Beohm, Pa. State Police.

The pilot, Nasser Erakat, 34, of Scottsdale, Ariz., was outside the aircraft. When officers approached the plane, he gave them permission to search the aircraft, said police.

Police found three passengers seated inside the aircraft, identified as Saleem Erakat, 36, of Scottsdale, Ariz., Ali Erakat, 32, of Castro Valley, Calif., and Alexis Lee, 31, of Oakland, Calif.

Officers smelled an odor of marijuana coming from the plane, and the passengers allowed police to search all the contents inside, said investigators.

Thirteen plastic sealed packages were located inside a black suitcase, said police. A search warrant was executed, and officers found approximately 70 pounds of marijuana, about $25,000 in cash and 19 cell phones, said investigators.

"They land and get their gas and they thought they were going to leave and not so lucky," said Kim Hartman, who also works at Malibooz.

"I always thought that was at big airports. I never thought Reading, Pennsylvania," said Mike Jroski, the cook at Malibooz.

The pilot and all three passengers were taken into custody. They were committed to the Berks County Jail on $100,000 bail.

The plane originated from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, according to flight tracking websites.

The investigation continues.