By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Four defendants charged in connection with a methamphetamine ring have been sentenced in federal court to lengthy prison terms.
Matthew Douglas Winchell, 53, of Great Falls and Jess Lisle "Tab" Angstman III, 55, and John Wesley Carlson, 29, both of Havre, were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Great Falls on Friday. A fourth defendant - Shane Alan Nault, 27, of Havre - was sentenced on Thursday.
The four were charged with conspiring to distribute more than 500 grams of meth during a five-year period. Winchell, a former Havre resident who police say was the ringleader, was also charged with possession of a firearm in commission of a drug trafficking crime.
U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon sentenced Winchell to 21 years and eight months in federal prison for the drug charge and five years for the secondary charge. The two sentences will run consecutively. Angstman and Carlson were each sentenced to seven years in prison. Nault received 10 years for his involvement with the ring.
The four pleaded guilty to the charges earlier this year. Three other co-defendants are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
The charges stemmed from a cooperative Tri-Agency Task Force and FBI investigation that began in 2000, task force agent Jerry Nystrom said this morning. Ultimately, the investigation included involvement by Great Falls police, the Montana Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Southwest Montana Drug Task Force.
The conspiracy lasted from early 1997 through 2002, and included suspects from Butte, Helena, Great Falls and Glasgow, as well as Havre, the task force said.
Winchell was the leader of the organization, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bernie Hubley said today. The ring was responsible for distributing at least 15 kilograms of meth, he added.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office, Winchell obtained methamphetamine from various sources outside Montana and redistributed it through lower-level dealers.
Police continue to investigate Winchell's suppliers from California and Washington state, the task force said.
The three Havre co-conspirators purchased meth directly from Winchell, the task force said.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Winchell provided about 15 ounces of meth to Nault through December 2001.
The case against Winchell was built in part on drug deals observed by the FBI and the task force. Agents monitored two drug transactions in March of 2002 with electronic surveillance equipment, the task force said. In those transactions, an undercover informant purchased 4 ounces of meth from Winchell in Great Falls. During the course of the drug sales, Winchell possessed a two-shot Derringer pistol and a rifle, both of which were stolen, the task force said.
Agents obtained a search warrant for Winchell's Great Falls residence, where they found $43,858, the task force said. The money was forfeited as part of Winchell's sentence and divided among the investigating agencies, the task force said.
Hubley, a former FBI agent, said he did not make sentencing recommendations to Haddon. He declined to comment on the sentences.