Eight People Convicted in Western Montana Meth Bust

Defendants, including a Hungry Horse couple, have been sentenced to federal prison

By Justin Franz
Meth confiscated by the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force. Beacon File Photo

Eight people who distributed methamphetamine throughout western Montana in 2014 and 2015 have been convicted on federal drug charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Friday.

Among the eight who were convicted last year is a Hungry Horse couple — Neal Maddox and Misty Leanne Beck — whose Flathead County home was raided by federal agents in January 2016.

The other six defendants — Richard Stroh, Like Hayes, Ryan Hippenstiel, Shacotta St. Onge, Logan Weniger and Katrina Everhart — primarily lived in the Missoula area but were responsible for the production and distribution of methamphetamine throughout Northwest Montana and the surrounding region, according to federal prosecutors.

According to Mike Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, the defendants were apprehended as part of an investigation spearheaded by the Montana Regional Violent Crime Task Force, with the help of local law enforcement agencies, including the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

“This operation put an end to organizations that were delivering dangerous drugs straight into our Montana communities,” Cotter said. “Methamphetamine has a devastating ripple effect — it ruins lives, families and communities. I am proud of the hard work and long hours the members of this operation invested in these cases. Our state is a safer place as a result.”

In addition to felony conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, seven of the defendants were also charged with numerous firearms violations. Over the course of the yearlong investigation, law enforcement agencies seized 68 firearms, including several semi-automatic assault rifles, unregistered silencers, high-capacity magazines, laser sights, one fully automatic machine gun, homemade grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Maddox and Beck were also in possession of a grenade launcher.

All the defendants accepted deals pleading guilty to federal charges ranging from conspiracy to distribute meth to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Maddox and Beck were the last to be sentenced in December 2016. Maddox was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Beck was given six years. Others received sentences ranging from five to 17 years in prison.

Law enforcement agencies began to investigate the methamphetamine production and distribution operation in 2015. While the investigation initially focused on the Missoula area, interviews and search warrants helped expand the geographic parameters of the case.

Law enforcement authorities say the use and abuse of methamphetamine has exploded in Northwest Montana in recent years. According to Bryan Lockerby, an administrator for the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, his agency dealt with 68 cases involving methamphetamine in 2010, but by 2012, it had spiked to 143 cases statewide. In 2015, the division handled 232 meth-related cases. Lockerby said about 80 percent of all drug cases his office prosecutes now involve methamphetamine use.

Locally, the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force has also seen a significant increase in the amount of methamphetamine they seize. In 2014, the Kalispell-based task force took in nine pounds of methamphetamine, but by 2016, that amount had tripled.

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