LACONIA — A Cambodian couple are being held in Belknap County Jail in lieu of cash bail following their arraignment in Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday on charges arising from allegedly operating what prosecutor Jim Sawyer described as "a big drug enterprise".
Bountham Sonthikoummane, 52, and Onnella Nguan, 37, both of 25 Grove Street, Apartment 1, were arrested on Thursday morning. Sonthikoummane was charged with possession of narcotic drugs with intent to distribute and conspiracy to to distribute controlled drugs while Nguan was charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled drugs.
Judge James Carroll set cash bail at $100,000 for Sonthikoummane, who was in the courtroom accompanied by an interpreter but not represented by counsel. The judge informed him the the United States Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have placed an "immigration hold" on him, requiring that he be placed in federal custody once he posts bail, is released or serves his sentence. Carroll assured Sonthikoummane that the court would appoint an attorney to represent him by Monday when he could petition for a further review of his bail.
Sawyer requested and Carroll set bail for Nguan, who was arraigned by video but represented by Public Defender Alison Schwartz, at $50,000. Schwartz asked to reduce her bail to $5,000. She told the court that Nguan, who came to the United States from Cambodia in 1996 and to New Hampshire from Massachusetts about a year ago, has no prior history of drug offenses. Moreover, she said Nguan has two children and is expecting a third without any family to care for them and that "she was not the main player in these circumstances," which she questioned were as extensive as Sawyer claimed.
Carroll disagreed, saying "this could be a large drug enterprise."
Sawyer told the court that a search of the apartment found significant quantities of drugs and amounts of cash as well as "further evidence of a drug enterprise," but no indication of drug use within the unit. He said that drugs were stored in a laundry basket, mingled with children's clothes, and in a bedroom closet within easy reach of the young children. He said that Sonthikoummane "showed disregard for the welfare of his step children."
In addition to drugs, Sawyer said police found "a large amount of cash" and receipts for purchases of jewelry made between May 27 and August 16 totaling $32,000. Furthermore, Sonthikoummane was wearing a gold necklace, which was appraised by a local jeweler at $7,000. Sawyer said that there was no evidence that either Sonthikoummane or Nguan were employed and suggested that the receipts and jewelry were bought with the cash proceeds of drug sales, which were laundered by turning them into things of value.
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