Washington Man Sentenced for Involvement in Shooting Death of Coeur d’Alene Teen
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – Matthew James Holmberg, 20, of Spokane Valley, Washington, was sentenced on July 19, 2023, to 19 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
According to court records, Holmberg was involved in distributing a variety of controlled substances, including fentanyl pills. In 2021, Holmberg met Dennen Trey George Fitterer-Usher, 24, of Spokane Valley, Washington. Holmberg recruited and began bringing Fitterer-Usher to drug deals with him as an armed bodyguard.
On May 31, 2021, Gabriel Casper, 18, Vadin Bartlett, 19, and Ashton Creech, 18, met Holmberg and Fitterer-Usher near Cherry Hill in Coeur d’Alene. Though Casper had arranged to purchase $300 worth of pills, he and the others were armed and arrived at the deal with the intent of robbing Holmberg. Casper, Bartlett, and Creech got into Holmberg’s vehicle, and Casper attempted to steal the pills. Fitterer-Usher then pulled his firearm and shot Casper six times. While Bartlett and Creech fled from the gun fire, Holmberg sped off with Casper still in the vehicle. Several blocks later, Casper was pushed from the moving car and left to die.
Despite attempts by civilians and EMS to save him, Casper ultimately succumbed to his wounds. Local, state, and federal officers began an immediate investigation into Casper’s death. Despite attempts by Fitterer-Usher and Holmberg to conceal the crimes, they were both eventually located and arrested.
“This incident is another sad example of the death and despair that fentanyl brings to our communities but also shows the resolve of DEA and our federal, state, and local partners in bringing evildoers to justice,” said David F. Reames, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division.
“The sentence imposed in this case, and in the multiple other prosecutions arising from this investigation, show that our office and our law enforcement partners will spare no effort in seeking justice against those who commit violence and distribute drugs in our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Hurwit.
"Amidst tragedy and unwarranted loss, the tenacity of our investigators and the relentless work by the U.S. Attorney brings justice for a grieving family and community,” said Colonel Kedrick Wills, Director of the Idaho State Police. “This unfortunate case serves as a solemn reminder of our commitment to uphold the rule of law and ensure those who violate it face consequences."
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to aggressively investigate individuals like Holmberg who use the U.S. Mail in support of their criminal activities,” said Inspector in Charge Anthony Galetti. “This should also serve as a reminder to those who abuse our community by peddling dangerous narcotics; law enforcement will find you and bring you to justice. Cases like these don’t come together without collaboration between our federal, state, and local partners and we thank all agencies involved.”
Fitterer-Usher was also charged federally with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and discharge of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He was previously sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in December of 2022 to more than 14 years of federal prison time.
Bartlett and Creech were both prosecuted by the state of Idaho for attempted robbery. Bartlett was sentenced to a suspended sentence of 5 years fixed, followed by 7 years indeterminate and was placed on probation after completing a rider. Creech was sentenced to an imposed sentence of 4 years fixed, followed by 11 years indeterminate and is currently serving his time in the Idaho Department of Corrections.
As part of their investigation, officers learned that Holmberg had been selling fentanyl-laced pills for several months via social media websites, including SnapChat. The investigation revealed Holmberg had delivered fentanyl pills to Michael Stabile, a 15-year-old, Lake City High School student in Coeur d’Alene. On May 10, 2021, Michael Stabile overdosed and died from fentanyl poisoning. Stabile’s death was one of several reasons that U.S. District Judge Amanda K. Brailsford sentenced Holmberg to 228 months in federal prison. Holmberg, upon completion of his prison sentence, was also ordered to serve an additional three years of supervised release.
The investigation also resulted in the arrest and prosecution of multiple individuals in Washington and Arizona who were involved in obtaining tens of thousands of fentanyl pills from a source in Mexico, via Arizona, and distributing those pills in Washington and North Idaho.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for severe pain management and prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges. While prescription fentanyl can be diverted for misuse, most cases of fentanyl-related overdoses in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl that is sold through illicit drug markets for its heroin-like effect.
Idaho in general has seen a massive influx of these pills in the last several years. The pills are mass-produced by criminal drug networks and falsely marketed as legitimate prescription pills. The pills are made to look like prescription opioids such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and alprazolam (Xanax); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall). It is difficult to tell the difference between an authentic pill and a counterfeit pill.
U.S. Attorney Hurwit commended the cooperative efforts of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, Liberty Lake Police Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Border Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Idaho State Police, which led to charges. He also commended the work of other agencies who participated and assisted in the investigation of the sources of supply, which resulted in the arrest and conviction of multiple individuals in Washington and Arizona. Agencies who assisted include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, Lakewood Police Department, Medford Police Department, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, Centralia Police Department, Chehalis Police Department, Shoshone County Sherriff’s Office, Washington Department of Corrections, United States Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DEA Centralia Post of Duty, and certain DEA Task Forces: JNET, Tucson Strike Force, and Phoenix Group 16 DEALERS.
These prosecutions are a part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.