tampabay.com

Deputy found fuses, not drugs

He testifies he first suspected two USF students had drugs in their car.

By Kevin Graham, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008


TAMPA - A sheriff's deputy patrolling a rural South Carolina road on Aug. 4 initially suspected that Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed might have been drug traffickers.

Berkeley County sheriff's Cpl. James Lamar Blakely said he first noticed Megahed and Mohamed on a stretch of Highway 176 near Goose Creek, S.C., that has a known drug problem. When he saw a Florida tag on the car Mohamed was driving, Blakely became even more suspicious because Florida is known as a "hub" of drug activity, he said Tuesday in federal court.

Blakely never discovered any drugs in the car. Instead, he found explosive materials.

An FBI report gives a full account of what Megahed, 21, and Mohamed, 26, were carrying. The list includes pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup and kitty litter; bullets and fuses; and a laptop with Internet searches about martyrdom, Hamas and Qassam rockets.

Defense attorneys want a judge to toss out everything investigators found, saying that Blakely never got legal consent from Megahed or Mohamed, both then University of South Florida students, to search their car.

After being stopped, Mohamed told Blakely he had homemade rockets in the car.

"You don't have a problem if I look then, right?" Blakely asked.

"If you must," Mohamed responded, according to the video.

Lyann Goudie, one of Mohamed's attorneys, said asking someone, "You mind if I take a look?" has a different meaning than, "You mind if I search?"

"'If you must' means somebody thinks you have authority," Goudie told Blakely.

The deputy spent almost an entire day testifying before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo, who will decide whether to grant the defense attorneys' motion to suppress the evidence.

Megahed and Mohamed, now suspended from USF, each face a charge of illegally transporting explosive materials. Mohamed faces an additional charge of demonstrating how to make an explosive device.

The hearing will resume today at 9 a.m. Hoffer plans to call Berkeley County Deputy Andy Taylor to testify. He assisted Blakely in the traffic stop.

After Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hoffer presents his evidence, Megahed's attorney plans to call two witnesses for the defense.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or 813 226-3433.