Accused leader of SLO County cocaine ring was ‘a ghost,’ prosecutor tells jury

Chase Hanson
Chase Hanson

Prosecutors laid out a Hollywood-style story reminiscent of “The Wire” to start the trial of a 26-year-old Morro Bay man they say was the mastermind behind a major San Luis Obispo County cocaine trafficking organization.

Chase Michael Hanson was described by Jason Nadal of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office narcotics unit as being elusive and cunning to the level of international drug cartels, so difficult to investigate that police were able to successfully petition to set up a wiretap — the basis behind the hit HBO series — to monitor the suspected operation.

“He was very sophisticated in this,” Nadal said. “I’ve had people tell me he was a ghost.”

Nadal detailed the lengths Hanson went to dodge law enforcement, under direct examination by Deputy District Attorney Kristy Imel, marking the long-awaited start to court proceedings nearly two years after the Sheriff’s Office announced case as “one of the largest cocaine arrests in recent history.”

Nadal said Hanson was the leader of an extensive chain of command built so that he would only deal with his 28-year-old roommate, Dane James Bennett of Morro Bay, who in turn communicated with other members of the operation all the way down to street-level drug dealers.

Bennett will testify against Hanson as part of a plea agreement, Imel told jurors.

Hanson and Bennett were two of 10 men indicted in 2015 at the conclusion of a nine-month investigation that turned up approximately 5 kilograms of cocaine, and several rifles, handguns and shotguns between Aug. 5 and Aug. 7 of that year. Many of those initially arrested have since been convicted and sentenced.

Police were able to close in on Hanson’s operation, Nadal said, after Alexander Matarese, a driver who was working for Hanson, was pulled over by police while in possession of 3 kilograms of cocaine. This action prompted people on phone lines monitored by police to start talking about the drug operation, Nadal said, a practice referred to as “tickling the wire.”

The trial’s opening day featured a walk-through of the process involved in applying for and running a wiretap. While officers were allowed to record and listen to conversations and text messages in relation to the case, they were not allowed to listen to non-pertinent or privileged communications, such as a conversation between Hanson and his lawyer.

Hanson is being held at San Luis Obispo County Jail on $500,000 bail.

Hanson’s attorney Jeffry Radding told San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Hugh Mullin III that he reserved his opening statement for later. The trial resumes Wednesday.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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