BILLINGS – A Florida man has pleaded innocent of a federal drug trafficking charge after his arrest in what authorities say was the largest meth seizure ever from a traffic stop in Montana.
Nicholas James Imhoff pleaded not guilty during a Monday appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan in Billings.
He was arrested Feb. 11 after a trooper allegedly found 78 pounds (35 kilograms) of methamphetamine in his rental minivan following a traffic stop near Columbus.
He’s charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
Cavan ordered Imhoff detained pending further proceedings, court records said. The defendant’s attorney, Lance Lundvall, said Tuesday that he had no public comment on the case at this time.
The case highlights the continuing challenge law enforcement authorities in many Western states face from what a steady flow of relatively cheap, high-potency methamphetamine brought in by Mexican drug cartels.
The influx of the drug has caused a surge in crime, with robberies, murders and assaults trending up in recent years in parts of the state, according to authorities.
Montana U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme told attendees at a recent drug treatment and prevention conference in Billings that the problem is not going away.
“Our law enforcement intelligence shows us high supply (of meth) is going to continue to keep availability high and prices low,” he said. “One negative change is we expect more violence to come as the cartels vertically integrate further north and we start seeing more violence related to their involvement.”
Imhoff was driving a minivan he had rented in Las Vegas five days earlier, court records said.
Imhoff said he was traveling to North Dakota. But the trooper said Imhoff could not provide an address in North Dakota, that his story seemed inconsistent and he was acting nervously, according to court documents
A K-9 unit alerted to drugs in the minivan, the trooper seized the vehicle and officials obtained a search warrant. The drugs were found under floor storage compartments in garbage bags, with some wrapped in duct tape, the documents state.
It’s the largest amount of meth ever seen in a single traffic stop, shattering the previous record of 27 pounds during a 2017 stop. The 78 pounds was more meth than the Montana Highway Patrol seized in all of 2017.
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