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A pair of South Dakota Highway Patrol troopers caught four people hauling 30 pounds of marijuana on Interstate 90 east of Rapid City last Friday.

But one carload of conspirators got away, according to court documents.

Magistrate judge Heidi Linngren set bond at $500,000 each for Linda Thuy Nguyen, 24 and Chan Buu Tran, 24, both of Minneapolis, Minn., and Khac Vinh Nguyen Le, 24, and Cam Thu Thi Le, 29, both of Blaine, Minn.

The four were traveling in two cars when they were pulled over by troopers for speeding in a 65 mph zone near mile post 67 on I-90.

The troopers were unable to stop the third car, which was in the middle of the mini-pack of three.

According to court records, the troopers were parked at a crossover when the three evenly spaced rental cars with California license plates passed them headed east. Each had a sleeping passenger.

The lead car, driven by Tran, was pulled over for speeding and following too close.

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The third car was stopped for speeding, but the second car continued traveling.

Trooper Zac Bader became suspicious while interviewing Tran, the driver of the lead car, and his passenger Nguyen. Both claimed they had flown from Minnesota to California to visit, but elected to drive back.

Rental car records indicated that Tran’s vehicle and the vehicle carrying the Les were both rented by the same person, who was not in either vehicle. Both vehicles were rented at the Santa Rosa Airport on Aug. 1 and were due back at the airport on Aug. 8.

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Relying upon other indicators — the nervousness of Tran and Nguyen, remnants of stops at gas stations (drink and food packages) and a heavy odor of cigarettes — Bader did an exterior check of the vehicle with his narcotics-trained dog. The dog alerted to the odor of an illegal drug or narcotic.

A search of the vehicle’s trunk revealed several packages of marijuana, totaling 30 pounds, packed in a large bag.

All four are charged with felony conspiracy, possession and distribution of marijuana. They also face a misdemeanor charge for possession of drug paraphernalia.

If convicted of all three felonies, each faces up to 40 years in prison.

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Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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