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Charges dropped in second large I-94 drug bust; same Stutsman deputy made both arrests

JAMESTOWN, N.D.—The Stutsman County State's Attorney's Office moved to dismiss drug charges against two people Friday at the request of the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office, according to court documents.

"After reviewing the case and going over it with the state's attorney, we found some issues with the case," said Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff. "We felt it was best to dismiss the case."

Mae Thao, 32, St. Paul, and Xang Thao, 30, Redding, Calif., were charged in December 2017 with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a Class A felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor.

The move comes after charges were dropped in another large drug bust in Stutsman County earlier this year after a judge ruled the traffic stop leading to the arrests was not justified. The same officer, Stutsman County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Thom, made the arrests in both cases

In the case dismissed Friday, Mae Thao was driving a Dodge Grand Caravan on Interstate 94 on Dec. 11, 2017, when she was stopped by Thom when the vehicle "failed to signal for 100 feet prior to making a lane change," according to the affidavit of probable cause in the case.

Thom also reported Mae Thao and Xang Thao acted nervous and could not "articulate a travel plan whatsoever," according to the affidavit.

The deputy reported he could smell raw marijuana and noted the floor in the back of the van was covered with blankets. A search found 198 pounds of marijuana in the van.

The dismissal of the charges came days before a hearing on a motion to suppress the evidence seized at the traffic stop before Judge Troy LeFevre.

"When law enforcement officers do a stop, they believe it is a good stop," Kaiser said. "Then, when it gets to court, it is looked at in a lot more detail."

Kaiser said the recent ruling in a similar case also played a part in dismissing charges against Mae Thao and Xang Thao.

Charges were dismissed June 28 against Nhia Lee, 36, St. Paul, and Bee Thor, 37, Oshkosh, Wis. Thor and Lee were charged with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver when 476 pounds of marijuana were discovered in a pickup they were driving on Jan. 21. Court records indicate Thom stopped the vehicle because it was traveling below the speed limit and was too close to a vehicle that had passed it on Interstate 94.

Judge Jay Schmitz ruled in that case the seized drugs were inadmissible in court because there was no probable cause to stop the vehicle and search it. Charges against Lee and Thor were dismissed after the ruling.

Kaiser said the drugs seized in the cases will be destroyed. Law enforcement officials are exploring seizing the vehicles used in both cases and cash seized during the arrest of Mae Thao and Xang Thao under North Dakota's civil asset forfeiture law.

Kaiser said Stutsman County Sheriff's Office deputies are continuing to receive training on what he refers to as crime interdiction. Crime interdiction, as it applies to drug enforcement activity, means law enforcement efforts are designed to capture drugs and drug carriers in transit.

"It is a fairly new thing around here," Kaiser said. "It is all about training, training and more training, and making sure you have all the I's dotted and T's crossed."

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