Men pulled off plane after five pounds of pot found

Three Wisconsin men were arrested Wednesday evening as they tried to flee the state after the Lacey Police Department discovered an alleged drug trafficking operation in a Lacey hotel room.

Sameer M. Salem, 27, Steven S. Sellers, 40, and Miguel A. Aponte, 26, were all arrested at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The three men appeared in Thurston County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon. Sellers and Aponte could face charges of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and Salem could face a charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, while armed with a deadly weapon.

“They were actually taken off the plane as they were trying to flee the jurisdiction,” Deputy Prosecutor Joe Jackson said.

Judge Anne Hirsch set bail at $5,000 for each of the men. Aponte and Sellers both have prior drug-related convictions, Jackson said. Salem has no known criminal history.

“The quantity of the marijuana was large, and they also had a firearm while they were traveling with (the marijuana),” Jackson said.

Court documents gave the following account of the events leading to their arrests:

Lacey police responded to reports of a suspicious person at the Days Inn Hotel at 8200 Quinault Drive early Wednesday morning. A hotel employee reported that several men had been in the parking lot “milling around.”

An officer drove through the lot and saw two men, whom he later identified as Aponte and Salem. They walked into the motel, and the officer noticed a wrench and a cellphone sitting on top of a dark gray Pontiac.

The flashlight application on the phone was running, and the vehicle smelled strongly of marijuana. The vehicle was registered to a California resident.

Officers entered the hotel to speak to Aponte and Salem, who provided inconsistent stories about who owned the vehicle.

Their room smelled strongly of marijuana. But when police asked about the smell, Aponte, Salem and a third suspect, Sellers, produced only an ounce of marijuana in a jar. Officers believed that it wasn’t enough marijuana to produce the strong smell.

Based on the smell and the inconsistent stories, police believed that the men were involved in drug trafficking.

The men agreed to a voluntary room search, and police found empty boxes of dryer sheets, rubbing alcohol, empty garbage bags and used rubber gloves.

Officers obtained a warrant and searched the vehicle. They found a gun sitting on top of one of the vehicle’s tires, five pounds of marijuana hidden inside the vehicle’s back door, and $2,900 in $100 bills.

Officers returned to the room and found that the men had fled. They found the keys to the vehicle outside of the room’s window.

The three men were detained at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by Port of Seattle police. Lacey officers drove to the airport and arrested the men.

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445