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Drug trafficking case moves to jury trial for Feb. 2022

During a hearing Monday at the Southwest District Courthouse in Dickinson, Alex Mendoza pled not guilty to the felony charge of possession of a controlled substance.

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Alex Mendoza was arrested on October 6 for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. (Contributed / Dickinson Police Department)
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Following a preliminary hearing for a man charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, Southwest District Court Judge Dann Greenwood ruled that the case will go to a jury trial in 2022.

Alex Mendoza, 41, appeared in court Monday for his preliminary hearing, and continued his plea of not guilty to the Class B felony charge of possession of a controlled substance.

Dickinson Police Officer Michael Cannole testified that an individual matching the description of Mendoza was seen on surveillance video at Neighbors Bar and Grill in Dickinson. The individual was sitting at a slot machine when a ziplock bag fell out of his pocket. A Neighbors employee later found the bag, at which point law enforcement was contacted.

According to DPD Lt. Mike Hanel, this occurred on Oct. 6. The following day, police officers located Mendoza’s vehicle at the Roosevelt Grand Dakota Hotel. He was stopped and arrested in the Applebee’s parking lot.

During a search of the vehicle, a black Chevy Tahoe with aftermarket rims, Cannole said a K-9 test indicated a likely presence of drugs. The dashboard panels were loose and poorly secured with aftermarket screws. A glass smoking device was located underneath the passenger’s seat. DPD officers found $39,024 cash in a compartment behind the driver’s seat.

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Initially, Mendoza told law enforcement that he earned the money through his food truck business. Cannole said Mendoza subsequently changed his story by telling them he won the cash at a casino and there were receipts in his vehicle to prove it. However, police officers did not find any reciepts to confirm Mendoza's story, Cannole added.

Stark County Assistant State’s Attorney Amy Pikovsky argued there was probable cause to bring this case to trial.

“The state’s position regarding the charges (were) appropriately elevated to intent to deliver based on the collateral circumstances. What was found in his vehicle — specifically, the large amount of cash — his changing story about where that cash originated and the alterations to his vehicle (don't add up),” Pikovsky said. “Additionally the drug dog did alert on his vehicle which indicates, as far as probable cause, that there was some presence of controlled substances in the vehicle even if its residue was not discovered specifically by law enforcement. So the state’s position remains that we’ve met our burden.”

Mendoza’s attorney, Thomas Murtha, of Dickinson, pointed out that DPD initially claimed to have found 18 grams of methamphetamine, but a subsequent lab report showed there was only 9 grams.

“The scales at the police department aren’t certified through the state; that was more or less the presumptive weight,” Cannole said.

Murtha argued the evidence against his client was insufficient.

“That’s a pretty steep charge to make based on this type of evidence, especially when you search the individual and there’s nothing in their car and nothing on their person and you can’t identify the employee that gave you the baggie that allegedly was on the video,” Murtha said. “I don’t think there’s probable cause.”

Greenwood determined that because the state has a low burden of indicating probable to cause, the case will move forward to trial. A bond reduction hearing was planned for today, followed by a pretrial conference Nov. 18. The jury trial will begin Feb. 2, 2022.

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