Omnibus hearing set for Dec. 23
A university recruiter and former standout athlete pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he was getting marijuana in the mail and planning to sell it in Havre.
Montana State University-Northern admissions specialist Joe C. Simpson, born in 1990, pleaded not guilty in state District Court in Havre Monday to felony counts of attempted criminal possession of drugs with the intent to distribute and use or possession of property subject to forfeiture - a 9 mm Taurus handgun and about $13,000 in cash - and with misdemeanor counts of possession of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
District Judge Dan Boucher set an omnibus hearing, in which deadlines, hearings and a trial generally are scheduled, for Dec. 23.
At the request of Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl, over the objection of Simpson's attorney, Boucher also set a condition of Simpson's release on $50,000 bond that police could, with reasonable suspicion, search Simpson's person, vehicle or residence.
Attorney Jeffry Olson argued that Simpson was innocent until proven guilty and should be held to the same standards requiring a search warrant as anyone else.
Boucher ruled in favor of Dahl's argument that Montana law allows the setting of conditions of release, including for searches of defendants upon reasonable suspicion.
Northern placed Simpson on paid administrative leave following his arrest. A university representative said that an internal investigation was being conducted, but no details were available for release.
According to a court document, the investigation leading to the arrest and charging of Simpson started when U.S. Postal Service employees in Havre contacted a drug agent with the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force to report they had on Oct. 19 intercepted a package addressed to Simpson containing about three pounds of suspected marijuana.
Postal records showed five packages including the one that was intercepted were mailed from California to Simpson between Sept. 21 and Oct. 17. Some were mailed from Simpson's home town of Pittsburg, Calif., the document said.
According to the court document, on Oct. 22 a representative of the local drug task reported that an anonymous tipster said Simpson was distributing marijuana to Northern athletes.
After receiving a search warrant, the task force agent investigating the package searched Simpson's residence Oct. 23, and smelled marijuana and found small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia scattered throughout the residence, the document said.
The 9 mm Taurus handgun was found in Simpson's room, and cash ranging from bundles of $300 to $8,000 were found throughout the residence, including hidden above a closet doorjamb, in a dresser drawer and in an attic space.
After Simpson refused to allow a search of the package, the postal inspector and the task force agent obtained a search warrant on the package, which contained about 2 pounds 3 ounces of a substance which field-tested positive for marijuana, the document said.
Simpson, who graduated from Northern in 2012, played for the Lights basketball team while at the university, including at the national tournaments in 2011 and 2012.