ONLY ON THE PILOT: A convicted felon who claimed that Port Authority police illegally searched his car after a stop near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee is looking at up to five years in state prison after pleading guilty in Hackensack today to a gun charge.
Ramon Vargas, 41, of the Bronx hesitated a long while when asked to admit that a Derringer .22-caliber handgun found after the stop belonged to him.
Ater a prolonged discussion with defense attorney Alan Lippel, Vargas told Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian that it was his.
Lippel hoped to convince Jerejian to rule that the Oct. 3, 2012 search of Vargas’s car, based on an officer’s suspicion that he might be trafficking drugs, wasn’t by the book.
But the judge cited several reasons police had to be suspicious, as well as the fact that Vargas — who already had a federal drug conspiracy conviction on his record — consented to the search that turned up the gun.
Vargas was stopped for erratically driving a car with illegally tinted windows, Jerejian noted. A computer check quickly showed that his license was suspended.
But that wasn’t all.
“You first told the officer you were driving to the Bronx to bring groceries to your mother,” Jerejian said. “Then you said you were there for a memorial service for your brother, who died in August.
“These observations, in the officer’s experience, indicated possible drug trafficking,” which the judge said can “support reasonable suspicion for asking for consent to search the vehicle.”
Other evidence included two pre-paid cellphones found on the passenger seat, a strong scent of air freshener and three unanswered phone calls within a short period of time during the search, Jerejian said.
Vargas had been free on $50,000 bail since his arrest. But Jerejian directed Bergen County Sheriff’s officers to take Vargas into custody, pending a Sept. 6 sentencing.
“He’s not going to remain at liberty,” the judge told Lippel, who sought bail pending an appeal. “That can be taken up with the Appellate Division, and if they deny the request you would serve your sentence while the appeal is going on.”
The plea deal makes Vargas eligible for parole after three years. Prosecutors also agreed to drop an additional charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon.
STORY / PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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