A 24-year-old college student caught in the wide net of a federal investigation into gang and drug activity stretching from Spokane to Las Vegas and California will avoid prison time if she follows court orders.
Elizabeth Weister was among 31 people indicted earlier this year on a prescription painkiller distribution ring. The drugs were pushed by a street gang tied to shootings and killings in Washington and elsewhere, according to court documents.
If Weister can avoid trouble for 18 months, prosecutors will drop the felony charges of drug conspiracy against her.
Others implicated in the second major drug bust to hit the federal courts in Spokane in recent years face the potential of decades in prison. The investigation produced hours of recorded phone conversations and months of drug deals involving cooperating informants.
Defense attorneys continue to challenge the legality of tapping cellphones in such cases.
Authorities arrested Deandre Gaither, 34, and Jason L. Jones, 43, in March as part of a sting that began in 2011. Local, state and federal authorities conducted more than 20 searches in Spokane County, Nevada and California. They charged 31 people with drug trafficking and conspiracy. Gaither, Jones and 32-year-old Kory A.J. Hall, of Las Vegas, also were indicted on charges of running a criminal enterprise.
Weister joins 45-year-old David L. Womack as the two defendants whose cases have been resolved.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Jared Kimball said the decision to potentially drop the charges against Weister was a difficult one for the office. She has no criminal history.
“I just hope we don’t have to see her again in this courthouse,” Kimball said.
Weister’s attorney called her reliable. “I’m fully confident she’ll comply with the terms of this agreement,” defense attorney James M. Parkins said.
Peterson dismissed Weister with a warning: “This is your day of winning the lottery … I hope you don’t blow it.”
Most details of the bust, which made headlines in March, remain under wraps because of a court order. However, a legal challenge of the wiretaps used to implicate Gaither, Jones and Stafone Fuentes, a Spokane man also linked to a pair of high-profile downtown shootings in November 2011 and February 2013, prompted a lengthy response this summer from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Washington.
That response contained investigation details, including stakeouts of Gaither’s Otis Orchards home, where his young son would open the door for potential drug buyers, authorities said. Jones became so convinced the federal authorities were watching him that he refused to leave his home for months, necessitating the phone taps, the government argued.
U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna M. Peterson signed an order last month allowing wiretap evidence.
Wiretaps also were used to break an alleged multistate oxycodone ring in March 2013. In that case, 62 people were indicted in federal court as members of another California-based gang allegedly dealing in Washington were targeted.
In that case, drug enforcement agents tapped six phones for three months to produce hours of recorded conversations and hundreds of texts to be used at trial. Spokane restaurateur Sally Guthrie, who owns several area Flamin’ Joes franchises, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined $6,000 as part of the case. The trial for Arvin T. Carmen, the alleged mastermind of the OxyContin ring, is scheduled to begin in a Spokane courtroom later this month. Of the original 62 defendants, 16 already have pleaded guilty, including Guthrie, according to court records.