April 10, 2009 in City, Region

Meth ring suspects face charges

Associated Press
 

KALISPELL, Mont. — A Kalispell man has admitted his role in what prosecutors say is a drug trafficking ring that funneled large amounts of methamphetamine from Spokane to northwestern Montana.

During a hearing this week in U.S. District Court in Missoula, 25-year-old Christopher Fraleigh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He’s to be sentenced July 10.

Seven other people, named in a recently unsealed federal indictment, also face charges for their roles in the drug trafficking operation.

The commander of the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force, Russ Papke, says the arrests have “made a significant impact on methamphetamine availability” in the Flathead Valley. Papke said about 80 percent of the methamphetamine in the area comes through Spokane, originating in Mexico.

“Spokane is kind of the stop in the middle,” Papke said.

Additional investigations into meth trafficking in the Spokane area are likely to stem from the Flathead case, Papke said.

“We did identify some of the suppliers out there (in Spokane),” Papke said.

Federal prosecutors allege Fraleigh was a middleman in a methamphetamine trafficking operation based in Spokane and supplied primarily by 34-year-old Jamie Lane Lake, also known in Montana as Jamie Lane Conrad.

Lake pleaded not guilty in March to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

Federal prosecutors allege the operation was moving pounds of the drug per week into Flathead and Lincoln counties by the end of 2007.

Papke said a pound of methamphetamine carries a street value of about $15,000, while a gram sells for about $100.

Prosecutors say the drug operation used motel rooms as meeting places and rental cars for transportation, and sometimes enlisted runners to move the drugs. Fraleigh’s rented Kalispell trailer served as a meeting place and dealing location, court documents show.

Also indicted for their roles in the trafficking operation were: 32-year-old Alfonzo Pena of Kalispell, 35-year-old Donovan Dehnel of Spokane, 42-year-old Deanna Rae Hamilton of Spokane, 39-year-old Daniel Bennett of Flathead and Lincoln counties, 38-year-old Scott Shirley of Kalispell, and 29-year-old Justin Hessler of Kalispell.

Each has entered not-guilty pleas to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan says the 16-month investigation also yielded a federal firearms charge against Jerrod Fister of Lakeside and a state charge of distribution of dangerous drugs against another Flathead County man, Kevin Gaethle.

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