by Danny Wade
A preliminary hearing was held Wednesday, October 11 in Humboldt for three defendants facing multiple drug, weapons, identity theft trafficking and other charges. Joseph Brian Moss, Lauren Nicole Tippett Moss and Dustin Wayne Page were in court with General Sessions Judge Bradley Owens presiding.
The hearing was to determine probable cause in a case where the West Tennessee Drug Task Force raided a huge drug operation in Humboldt in July in what was the biggest drug bust in the 28th District task force’s history. Agents used a large U-Haul truck to load up the stash. The raid discovered over $150,000 in cash and multiple weapons.
According to court documents affidavit of complaints, agents with the West Tennessee Drug Task Force, along with US Postal Inspector, TBI and the ATF, executed a search warrant at 2500 N. Central Ave. in Humboldt, Tenn. on July 28, 2023 after a controlled delivery was made of 19,475 grams of chocolate candy bars containing psilocybin (mushrooms), a Schedule I narcotic.
At the public hearing, Milan attorney Tim Crocker represented Mrs. Moss, Jackson attorney Daniel Taylor represented Mr. Moss and Jackson attorney Joe Byrd Jr. represented Page.
Nina Seiler, assistant district attorney general for the 28th Judicial District, served as prosecutor during the hearing.
WTDTF Special Agent in Charge Jason Williams was the first to take the stand. Seiler presented dozens of pictures taken during the raid, which were presented as exhibits to the court. Seiler thoroughly questioned Williams about each photo and his explanation of what was in the photos.
According to the affidavit of complaints the business was searched over a 10-hour period, where agents uncovered multiple rooms containing an illicit steroid lab, three indoor marijuana grow operations, a gun manufacturing room, a moonshine still, and a shipping and receiving operation for shipping illegal drugs and receiving money.
During the public hearing, the defense attorneys questioned Williams about some the task force’s findings. One finding was regarding the marijuana grow rooms and if there was actual marijuana growing during the search. Williams said there was not, but a bag of leaf marijuana was found in the grow room.
Another item that came forward during testimony was about the weapons discovered. Both Mr. Moss and Page had a weapon on them and both freely told the officers about the weapons. It was also noted that most of the other weapons confiscated were not loaded and were locked in a vault.
Another questionable factor of the bust was the postal inspector, who is a law enforcement entity, did not deliver the five packages of psilocybin chocolate bars to the correct address. The mail label was for 2500 N. Central Ave. Suite A, which is Mr. Moss’ gym business. There was no business name or person’s name on the mail label, only the address. Instead, the boxes were delivered to Mrs. Moss’ boutique, which is the same address, but it is Suite B.
During testimony, Williams said the majority of the deliveries to the gym are dropped off by the postal service to the boutique since the gym door has a lock and keycode entry pad for patrons.
Attorney Crocker only had one witness to testify during the hearing, the Moss’ 12-year-old daughter. Crocker asked her if she was in the boutique during the delivery of the mail packages, to which she said she was. He then asked if Mrs. Moss was in the building, again answering yes. Crocker asked where in the building Mrs. Moss was, to which she said she was in the back of the boutique. The daughter said she saw the boxes delivered and when she saw the address as Suite A, she took the box next door to the gym. The daughter said her mother never had contact with the packages.
Seiler had no questions for the child.
During closing statements, each attorney addressed the judge. All three claimed the state did not present enough evidence to convict their respective clients. The attorneys also claimed that the search warrant should never been approved due to incorrect information submitted to the DA’s office and all evidence produced during the search should be thrown out.
At the end of the preliminary hearing, Judge Owens said he has a lot to consider, cases to review and statutes to review.
“I want everyone to know what my role is here today,” Judge Owens said in closing. “Before I make a ruling, I want to explain what I do as a general sessions judge. A preliminary hearing is best described as the trial before the trial where the judge decides not whether the defendants are guilty or innocent—that’s not my role—or whether there’s enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial. In a preliminary hearing, the judge uses a probable cause legal standard, deciding where the state has produced enough evidence to whether a crime was committed and the validity of the alleged crime. Understand this is not a determination of guilt or innocence.”
Judge Owens further explained that even if he were to dismiss the cases, the state has the opportunity to present these cases to the grand jury.
On Thursday, October 12, Judge Owens made his ruling, stating, “The preliminary hearings in State v. Dustin Wayne Page, State v. Lauren Nicole Tippett Moss, and State v. Joseph Brian Moss were conducted on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 in Humboldt General Sessions Court. Based on the evidence presented, the Court finds that there is probable cause to bind these cases over to the action of the Gibson County Grand Jury as originally charged and as detailed below.
Each Defendant shall continue on their current bond with the same bond conditions. Defendants’ next court date will be December 11, 2023, at 8:30 a.m. in the Circuit Court of Gibson County, Tenn. in Humboldt before Judge Clayburn Peeples.
“I was surprised and disappointed Judge Owens found probable cause and bound Nycole Moss case over to the Grand Jury,” Crocker said. “Obviously, the burden of proof in a Preliminary Hearing is drastically less than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ in a jury trial. Perhaps the District Attorney will exercise proper judicial discretion and not seek an indictment. I’m confident a jury will reach the correct conclusion,” he added.