An investigation into a major marijuana smuggling ring operating out of Southwestern Virginia has resulted in the conviction of a 38-year-old Maine man, believed to be the group's pilot.
Nelson King, who authorities say was pilot of a marijuana-laden plane that crashed into 3,000-foot-high Fancy Gap Mountain in Carroll County on Oct. 17, was convicted Saturday in federal court in Roanoke of marijuana smuggling charges. U.S. District Judge James Turk delayed sentencing until a background report can be delivered.
King's is the second conviction to come in the wide-ranging investigation. Two weeks ago, 28-year-old Olga Thrasher, whose husband is alleged to have played a key role in the drug ring, pleaded guilty to helping King elude authorities after the crash. She admitted later plotting King's abduction after she grew suspicious of his loyalty.
Authorities have issued a sealed warrant for the arrest of Thrasher's husband Wallace, who mysteriously disappeared after the plane crash. Olga Thrasher maintains that her husband died in November while attempting to pick up a shipment of marijuana in Belize, though she has no legal proof of his death. She has admitted that a Jamaican death certificate she filed in court after his disappearance is false.
Two alleged members of the ring were arrested Friday. Authorities identified 49-year-old Douglas Griffin of Bath County as the key financier of the smuggling operation and 38-year-old Joseph Maschino of Florida as his assistant.
Federal prosecutors charged in King's indictment that King was in the plane that crashed on Fancy Gap Mountain, carrying an estimated half-million dollars worth of marijuana.
One passenger died, authorities alleged, but King walked away with minor injuries.
Thrasher testified that King called her the night of the crash and told her: "The plane is down. It crashed. I'm bleeding. I'm hurt. I think the other guy is dead."
She said she and her husband picked up King and brought him back to their Pulaski County home, where she bandaged his wounds.
They then helped him get treatment in a Florida hospital, she testified. She said King assisted her husband on several flights to bring in drugs in 1984.