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Wis. court upholds airport cocaine conviction (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Police lawfully arrested a man after he carried $40,000 worth of cocaine off a plane at Milwaukee’s airport, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Little A. Stewart pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to deliver last year. Court records show an informant told a Wisconsin Justice Department agent in March 2009 that Stewart was on a plane traveling from Las Vegas to Milwaukee with nearly 14 ounces of cocaine.

The agent and Milwaukee police watched Stewart get off the plane. The agent noted Stewart was carrying a small plastic bag that likely would have held that much cocaine. As police approached him, he tossed the bag into the trunk of a car and quickly stepped away. Police arrested him, searched the trunk and recovered the bag, which indeed contained almost 14 ounces of cocaine.

Stewart, now 56, argued on appeal that police didn’t have probable cause to arrest him because the informant’s information came from a third man who had been in contact with Stewart. He also contended that a trial judge was mistaken when he ruled Stewart lacked standing to challenge the warrantless search of the car trunk.

The 1st District Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the totality of the circumstances amounted to probable cause for an arrest. The informant was reliable and knew Stewart’s contact well from previous drug deals, and the agent saw Stewart with the bag and watched him throw it away as police approached, the court said.

The trial judge properly ruled that Stewart couldn’t challenge the trunk search, the court added. The search was reasonable because Stewart was lawfully under arrest, the court said.

Stewart’s attorney, listed in online court records as Jeffrey Jensen, didn’t immediately return a message left at his office.

Stewart was charged in 2007 with conspiring with former Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee Jr. to have a man who burglarized Stewart’s home beaten. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a deal with prosecutors.

McGee pleaded no contest in 2008 to making false statements to an election official and criminal contempt. According to online court records, he was sentenced to six months in Milwaukee’s House of Corrections. That sentence was to begin after he completes a 6-½ year stint in federal prison for extorting bribes from business owners.

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