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Buffalo duo sent back to jail following preliminary hearing on marijuana possession charges

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MASSENA - A Buffalo-area couple have had their felony drug possession counts sent up to superior court for possible grand jury action after a local justice ruled enough evidence had been presented at a preliminary hearing to show they had 1.1 pounds of marijuana in their vehicle during a traffic stop in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 in the village of Massena.

Village police charged James G. (Jamie) Spotted Elk Jr., 40, of 2388 Upper Mountain Road, Sanborn, and Nancy L. Best, 30, of 724 Division Ave., Apt. 1, Niagara Falls, with second-degree criminal possession of marijuana. Best was also charged with second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Acting Massena Village Justice James M. Crandall sent Spotted Elk back to the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility with no bail, and Best’s bail was reduced from $10,000 cash to $3,500 cash or $7,000 bond.

St. Lawrence County Assistant Conflict Public Defender Amy Dona had urged the court to reduce Best’s bail. She noted her client has four children between the ages of 5 and 10 and was scheduled to begin classes this month at Erie Community College.

She acknowledged Best had a prior felony arrest, but she said that case had been reduced to a violation.

Mr. Crandall noted Best also had a pending warrant. Ms. Dona said Best lacked the funds to resolve the issue that led to the warrant.

She had asked the court to significantly reduce the bail so her client’s family might have the opportunity to spring her from jail.

St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Otis Simons urged the court to maintain the bail at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.

“I sympathize with the argument that she has four children, but she should have thought about that before she did this,” the prosecutor suggested.

Mr. Crandall said since there was already an active warrant for Best’s arrest he felt there was a need for substantial bail.

“Here’s the deal. If you do get out and skip out on this, it will not go away. The long arm of the law will snap you up,” he warned.

The local justice was unable to set bail for Spotted Elks since he has two prior felony convictions.

He was sentenced to one to three years in state prison in August 1996 for a second-degree attempted criminal mischief conviction and two to four years in state prison in February 1999 for a criminally negligent homicide conviction, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Services website.

According to newspaper reports from the time, Spotted Elk had initially been charged with manslaughter following the May 2, 1998 shooting death of Dustan Printup, 19, in a vehicle on Mount Hope Road on the Tuscarora Reservation. Spotted Elk was reportedly struggling for the weapon with another person in the vehicle when the weapon fired.

U.S. Border Patrol agents had initiated the Jan. 11 traffic stop that led to the drug charges in Massena on Route 37 at the Route 420 intersection. Agents said they had seen the rental vehicle being operated by Best leave an area where they had observed suspicious behavior involving a snowmobile a short time earlier.

Spotted Elk initially told agents he had been visiting a cousin in the prison in Chateaugay, but later admitted he been on the reservation shortly before the 1:20 a.m. traffic stop in Massena.

Agents said during the traffic stop they noticed Spotted Elk was leaning way back in the passenger seat of the 2012 Ford Fusion, and he told officers he was too tired to move his seat back up. They said a Border Patrol K-9 unit responded to the traffic stop, and a plastic bag containing 1.1 pounds of marijuana was located on the floor on the passenger side of the back seat. Agents turned the case over to Massena Village Police.

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