August 06, 2015
Contact: Special Agent Randy Ladd
Phone Number: (571) 387-2270
Thirteen Convicted In Montana Drug Trafficking Operation Run From A California Prison
BILLINGS, Mont. - The United States Attorney’s Office announced today the completion of a Montana-based operation that convicted 13 defendants for methamphetamine, firearms and money laundering charges, involving an estimated $300,000 worth of meth in Montana. Operation Pale Mule consisted of numerous law enforcement agencies in Montana and California targeting a conspiracy to distribute approximately 10 pounds of methamphetamine in Montana, led by defendant Jason Neel, 31, from inside a California State prison while serving a sentence for second degree murder. Neel was sentenced to 50 years in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Susan P. Watters.
The investigation joined more than 70 law enforcement officers working across eastern Montana and in California, and involved the execution of approximately 60 warrants to obtain information about the drug trafficking conspiracy. The conspiracy was responsible for bringing roughly five kilograms of meth into Montana, valued at approximately $300,000. Law enforcement also uncovered a funnel bank account, where drug distributors would deposit their proceeds at a Montana bank and another defendant in California would take the money out to pay the sources of the drugs. Law enforcement was able to determine that $42,000 was laundered through one bank account, with an additional $5,000 through other money transfers. Law enforcement also seized $6,639 and a 2007 BMW, which were linked to the drug trafficking.
“This operation illustrates how drug trafficking organizations can reach into and dramatically effect communities, even from a distance.” stated Barbra Roach, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Denver Field Division. “It takes cooperation and coordination from a wide range of law enforcement entities to defeat these organizations.”
Mike Cotter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana stated “Methamphetamine has a devastating ripple effect - it ruins lives, families and communities…Our state is a safer place as a result [of this investigation].”
“In safeguarding our communities today, there is literally nothing we do alone,” said Eric Barnhart, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Salt Lake City Division. “This case represents the epitome of collaboration between law enforcement agencies…”
Investigation of the drug trafficking organization began in September of 2013, when law enforcement agents with the FBI and the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task (HIDTA) began investigating a drug trafficking organization responsible for shipping methamphetamine from Southern California to Billings and Roundup, Montana. Agents soon learned that one of the leaders of the organization in Montana, Casey Fleming, was working with Jason Robert Neel, an inmate at the California State Prison, Corcoran, who was serving 44 years to life for second degree murder. Neel was able to have a prison employee smuggle cell phones into the prison so that he could effectively run the organization. As part of the investigation, agents were authorized several court ordered intercepts of cell phones identified as being used by key members of the organization, allowing law enforcement to identify and ultimately dismantle the criminal enterprise.
This investigation involved the cooperation of many law enforcement agencies in Montana and California, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI Big Sky Safe Streets Task Force and the Eastern Montana HIDTA.