OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MATT J. WHITWORTH
Contact Don Ledford, Public Affairs ● (816) 426-4220 ● 400 East Ninth Street, Room 5510 ● Kansas City, MO 64106
AUGUST 11, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PLATTE COUNTY MAN SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISON
FOLLOWING METH LAB EXPLOSION,
SHOOT-OUT WITH POLICE
TWO CO-DEFENDANTS SENTENCED TO 20 YEARS
FOR METH CONSPIRACY
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Matt J. Whitworth, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that three Platte County, Mo., residents were sentenced in federal court today for their role in a large-scale conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine. While attempting to flee from police officers, one of the defendants detonated an explosion at his residence and engaged in a shoot-out and high-speed car chase with officers.
Bryan G. Leonard, 33, Melissa J. Fox, 43, and April D. Coots, 26, who shared a residence in Platte County, were sentenced in separate appearances before U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple this afternoon. Leonard was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole, plus a mandatory consecutive sentence of 10 years in federal prison, without parole. Fox and Coots were each sentenced to 20 years in federal prison without parole.
Five additional co-defendants who were charged in an April 10, 2008, federal indictment will be sentenced on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009. The final co-defendant will be sentenced on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009.
“Justice has been served,” Whitworth said. “These defendants lived together and operated a massive meth lab in a residential neighborhood near a public school. Their criminal conduct endangered the health and safety of many innocent people. Leonard deliberately escalated the threat when he detonated an explosive device that resulted in a fire. He then engaged in a violent shoot-out and car chase with law enforcement officers.
“I applaud the dedication of all the officers who risked their lives to apprehend a dangerous criminal, and who worked diligently to investigate this case,” Whitworth added. “I appreciate the cooperation of Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd in this joint investigation and successful prosecution.”
On Aug. 7, 2008, Leonard pleaded guilty to his role in a conspiracy to manufacture well over 15 kilograms of methamphetamine between Jan. 1, 2006, and April 10, 2008. Leonard also pleaded guilty to creating a substantial risk of harm to human life while manufacturing or attempting to manufacture methamphetamine, to discharging a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, to forcibly assaulting a federal law enforcement officer with a dangerous weapon, and to maliciously destroying a building by means of fire and explosive materials. Fox and Coots each pleaded guilty on Oct. 8, 2008, to their role in the conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine.
Police officers responded to a call from the Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline regarding a methamphetamine lab at a residence just north of Park Hill South High School on Sept. 5, 2007. Detectives noted multiple surveillance cameras around the residence, as well as a strong chemical odor coming from vents in the garage area. The chemical smell is frequently associated with chemicals used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. The windows of the residence and garage had been covered from the inside with black plastic.
When no one answered the door at the residence, officers remained at the scene while waiting to obtain a search warrant. Leonard came out of the residence and started shooting at police officers in an attempt to escape from the residence. As he exited the residence, Leonard detonated an explosive device, which caused the residence to explode and burn to the ground and sent Leonard flying through the air. He fled through the back yard to where a Jeep was sitting and led police officers on a high-speed pursuit. No one was injured in the shooting or the explosion.
During the car chase, Leonard drove through English Landing Park on a pedestrian walking trail. Several people who were on the walking trail had to take evasive actions to get out of the way because Leonard was traveling at them at a high rate of speed. Leonard then drove on railroad tracks and turned onto Intercon Drive, and entered the Intercontinental property service road where he did not stop at a guard shack and crashed through a stop arm. Leonard attempted to crash through a gate and failed; the Jeep came to rest and Leonard was arrested. Leonard had a “bank bag” in the front of his pants containing $8,830 in cash and two plastic bags with 2.52 grams of methamphetamine.
Investigators collected numerous items relating to an extremely large methamphetamine lab from Leonard’s residence. An investigator who has worked for the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department Crime Laboratory as a chemist for over 10 years and worked on hundreds of methamphetamine laboratory investigations, stated that the methamphetamine laboratory he found at Leonard’s residence was one of largest he had ever seen. The methamphetamine laboratory was in the garage, where three burners were lined up against the garage wall; with each burner, Leonard would have been capable of cooking many pounds of methamphetamine at a time. On one of the burners was the remains of a large flask, with a mixture of iodine, ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, amphetamine and methamphetamine, which indicates a cook in progress at the time of the fire.
In addition to the narcotics items recovered, detectives found numerous pieces of firearms and ammunition from Leonard’s residence. Due to the fire, many of these items were damaged severely. Investigators determined that the firearms included a Ruger .22-caliber rifle, an Auto-Ordinance .45-caliber rifle a Kel-Tec Sub-2000 rifle, two Ruger 9 mm pistols, an AR-15 type firearm, a Mossberg shotgun, an Erma-Werke .380-caliber pistol and a Smith & Wesson pistol. Detectives also recovered a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver from inside Leonard’s truck, which was parked in the driveway.
Tracy J. Kerr, 39, of Kansas City, Mo., and Lisa W. Yazel, 46, of Lee’s Summit, Mo., pleaded guilty on Oct. 8, 2008, to their roles in the conspiracy. Shelli M. Smith, 44, and Shawn P. Berkstresser, 42, both of Kansas City, Mo., pleaded guilty to the same charge on Oct. 7, 2008. Jeremiah L. Harris, also known as “Luke,” 30, of Independence, Mo., and Eric V. Cares, 46, of Lee’s Summit, have each pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Harris also pleaded guilty to creating a substantial risk of harm to human life while manufacturing or attempting to manufacture methamphetamine.
Leonard cooked methamphetamine at the residence with Harris, his partner. Leonard was using pharmaceutical grade ephedrine and could produce more than five pounds of methamphetamine each time he conducted a “cook” using a 72,000 ML flask.
Fox and Coots distributed methamphetamine for Leonard and Harris, and would also aid them in getting all the necessary supplies to perform meth cooks and maintain the residence to perform each meth cook.
Leonard also delivered large quantities of methamphetamine for further distribution to Smith and Berkstresser, who resided together at a residence located within 1,000 feet of James Elementary School. On Jan. 2, 2008, using a confidential source, detectives purchased methamphetamine from Smith and Berkstresser, who indicated they were preparing for another meth cook later that night. Detectives then executed a search warrant and discovered evidence of a methamphetamine production lab inside the residence. Smith, Berkstresser, Cares and Yazel were all arrested inside the residence. Detectives discovered approximately 345.57 grams of liquid substances containing a mixture of methamphetamine, along with numerous items such as glassware, bowls, bottles, chemicals, tubing, stained coffee filters and stained gloves, funnels and other items consistent with manufacturing methamphetamine. Detectives learned that Yazel and Cares had just purchased items such as pseudoephedrine, lye, red phosphorus and iodine to bring to Smith and Berkstresser to cook meth.
Kerr bought pseudoephedrine from Leonard and Harris, which he used in his own methamphetamine laboratory. Kerr also obtained methamphetamine from Leonard and Harris for further distribution.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew P. Wolesky. It was investigated by the Metro Drug Task Force, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Platte County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Parkville, Mo., Police Department, the Riverside, Mo., Department of Public Safety, the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service.
This news release, as well as additional information about the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is available on-line at