NORTH PLATTE - Nearly 10 months after the largest methamphetamine roundup in North Platte’s history, all but one of the suspects arrested has been found guilty in federal court.
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There were 11 local residents arrested in the sting that focused on drug trafficking in and around North Platte for 15 months prior to the April 22 roundup.
Of the 11 arrested, six have been sentenced to federal prison and four await sentencing in the next two months. One suspect pleaded not guilty and is still facing a trial.
The kingpin of the operation changed his plea to guilty three weeks ago and will be sentenced in January.
S. Attorney Mike Heavican said the undercover operation netted a “very successful group of indictments.
“Everyone is going through the system very quickly, very efficiently,” said Heavican. “Many of them cooperated and gave us information on individuals both on this case and in the future.
“These are the cases we like to do,” he said. “The kind that make a significant dent in the amount of methamphetamine that ultimately reaches the street.
Heavican said officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the North Platte Police Department, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement took part in the operation.
“They were our eyes and ears in this case in particular,” Heavican said. “We had great cooperation.
All those arrested were charged with federal conspiracy charges that carry mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Every single one has pleaded guilty to at least one charge of drug trafficking.
Sentenced so far:
• Clint Ingalls, 28, 420 West F, 151 months (12½ years) for conspiracy to sell and distribute cocaine and meth. It was just Sept. 13 that Ingalls was sentenced to from 1½ to 4 years in state prison for stealing a truck from Bill Summers Ford and two counts of escape after conviction.
• Robert S. Cousins, 47, 1006 W. Sixth, 140 months (11.6 years) for conspiracy to distribute meth.
• Stacy S. Scott, 45, 511 N. Jeffers, 87 months (7¼ years) for conspiracy to distribute meth.
• Marion F. Holmes, 721 N. Jessie, 60 months (five years) for conspiracy to distribute meth.
• Tonia J. Plunk, 37, 1814 West F, 30 months (2½ years) for conspiracy to distribute meth.
• Grady L. Vaughn, 36, 2802 Shirley Road, 70 months (5.8 years) for conspiracy to distribute meth.
All the men also got five years of supervised release once their sentence is served. Plunk got a three-year term of supervised release.
The rest have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
• Alan E. Sandman, 56, 617 N. Washington, will be sentenced for conspiracy to distribute meth Dec. 2. He could face life in prison.
• Troy R. Hansen, 28, 2290 Chokecherry, will be sentenced for conspiracy to distribute meth Dec. 9. Hansen also forfeited $837 as part of his plea agreement. He could face life in prison.
• Dale Nordblad, no age given, 300 W. South River Road, will be sentenced for conspiracy to distribute meth Jan. 6. He could face life in prison.
• Troy Vannortwick, 38, 709 East B, will be sentenced for conspiracy to distribute meth Jan. 25. He could face life in prison.
Only one suspect has not pleaded guilty.
• William L. Hansen Jr.
, 47, 615 N. Adams, pleaded not guilty in April and is still fighting the charges against him. A motion to suppress was denied. The original jury trial set for Oct. 31 was continued. A status hearing will be held Dec. 22. No new trial date has been set.
The suspects were accused of distributing cocaine and meth in the North Platte area from January 2004 to April 2005.
Heavican said the investigation included state search warrants, traffic stops and purchases of controlled substances by confidential informants and undercover law enforcement officers.
The investigation netted more than 500 grams of meth and cocaine which cost investigators $3,834 to purchase, according to Heavican.
Officials fanned out across North Platte early April 22 and knocked on the suspects’ doors. The operation began at dawn and concluded in the late afternoon. Several suspects were arrested in the next few days, including the kingpin Juan Figueroa-Valdez, who was arrested on the Mexican border, apparently trying to flee the country.
Figueroa-Valdez, a Mexican national, imported the drugs to Nebraska, according to investigators. He changed his plea to guilty Nov. 3 and is facing drug trafficking conspiracy and gun possession charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 26, 2005.
Heavican said the successful meth bust made a dent in the supply in both North Platte and Grand Island.
“There was a lot of interconnection,” Heavican said. “They reach in between various towns and regions in the state and, eventually, to other parts of the country.
North Platte is a link in a multinational drug chain.
Investigators said Figueroa-Valdez was the supplier and local residents sold the drugs for him. They said the drugs came out of Mexico and through Arizona, California and New Mexico.
They often see distribution through North Platte and on to Sioux City, Lincoln, Omaha, Minneapolis, Chicago and beyond.
North Platte police investigator Matt Phillips has said there are few meth labs locally. Rather, he said, most of the meth used locally now comes from Mexico or California.
The number of Hispanic workers, both legal and illegal, has nearly tripled in the last 10 years. While most Hispanics are honest and hard-working, the rapid growth of that community has allowed drug trafficking organizations with ties to Mexico to blend in easily.
Heavican said nearly two-thirds of the criminal cases his office prosecutes deal with drug cases, and two-thirds of those involve meth.
Phillips said the April North Platte bust slowed the local supply of meth for a while, but others stepped in and took the dealers’ places.
Information gleaned from the investigation that led to the April bust also spun an offshoot investigation, according to Phillips.
That led to the arrest of a connected cartel in Dawson County.
In October, investigators arrested Manual Zapata – a drug seller who took Figueroa-Valdez’s place after the April bust. He was indicted federally but has yet to enter a plea.
Also arrested were Tina Speake and Finley Wade Plenty Chief. Both have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to distribute meth charges and face federal trials Jan. 3, 2006.
Plenty Chief also faces gun running charges.
Heavican said it takes the help of local law enforcement to keep on top of the meth suppliers.
“We can’t possibly put enough federal agents everywhere to work cases to their fullest,” Heavican said. But he believes they are attacking the meth problem in western Nebraska communities today.
“We emphasize conspiracies,” Heavican said. “That way, we can take the supply out of a lot of areas.
A graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law, Heavican was appointed U.
S. Attorney for the Nebraska district by President George W. Bush on Sept. 21, 2001.
Originally published on www.northplattebulletin.com's Local News page on 12/8/2005