An ex-Navy SEAL with CIA ties who used his private airplane to deliver thousands of pounds of marijuana around the country, including Columbia, told federal agents that his major supplier was a California man.
Christopher Daugherty, the California man identified by the ex-SEAL, now is in federal custody at a jail in the Columbia area.
Details of Daugherty’s alleged role in the marijuana-smuggling operation — and how federal agents used ex-SEAL J.D. Smith to arrest Daugherty — were disclosed at a hearing Thursday at the U.S. Courthouse in Columbia. There, a defense attorney tried to convince a federal magistrate judge that Daugherty should be allowed to make bond and get out of jail.
But federal prosecutor Sandra Strippoli told Magistrate Paige Gossett that Daugherty had used multiple addresses, was a flight risk and a “danger to the community” — assertions disputed by defense attorney Marion Moses.
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Gossett made no immediate decision, saying she wanted to review evidence in the case.
That evidence includes Thursday’s testimony by Drug Enforcement Administration agent Doug McElwain, who spent more than an hour on the witness stand describing what federal agents had learned from Smith, a decorated SEAL veteran.
Smith has told federal agents he picked up marijuana from Daugherty in Las Vegas or California and, then, flew it to various places, including Syracuse, N.Y.; Baltimore, Md.; Madison, Wis.; Chicago; Charlotte; Raleigh; and Columbia, McElwain testified.
“Smith was paid by the amount he transported,” McElwain testified. “He was paid by the pound.”
Daugherty would meet Smith at airports in the cities that the ex-SEAL flew to, remove the marijuana from his plane and distribute it to dealers in those locations, McElwain testified.
Daugherty distributed the marijuana himself because he “didn’t want J.D. Smith interacting with his customers,” McElwain testified.
After news accounts about Smith’s arrest in mid-2017 — along with two Columbia men, brothers Carl and Bryon Rye — Daugherty called Smith’s lawyer, prominent Columbia attorney Greg Harris, and explored how to raise bond money for Smith, McElwain testified.
Harris, who had no attorney-client relationship with Daugherty, let federal agents record Daugherty’s calls.
Then, federal agents worked with Smith, who was in custody at the Lexington County jail, to record more calls with Daugherty. By that time, Smith was working with federal agents in hopes of getting released on bond and getting a reduced prison sentence in the future.
“I’ll confirm that,” Harris said later Thursday.
Because of Smith’s cooperation, federal agents arrested Daugherty and searched a residence he owned in Napa, Calif., seizing 800 pounds of marijuana and approximately $400,000, McElwain testified.
Four years ago, Columbia area law enforcement officials learned Smith regularly was flying loads of marijuana into Columbia and delivering it to the Rye brothers, according to evidence in the case. They brought the federal DEA into the case.
Federal agents then used high technology and other means to gather evidence against those involved in the smuggling ring, working their way up from the Ryes to Daugherty.
The DEA still is investigating the ring.
Smith and the Ryes have been released on bond.