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NEWS RELEASE

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

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html


MARCH 26, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


OPERATION BUCKSHOT


JURY CONVICTS TWO MEN IN MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR

METHAMPHETAMINE CONSPIRACY


            SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Matt J. Whitworth, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that two men were convicted in federal court of participating in a conspiracy to distribute millions of dollars worth of methamphetamine in Barton County, Mo., and elsewhere.


             Operation Buckshot was a multi-agency investigation into a large-scale drug-trafficking conspiracy that involved the distribution of methamphetamine from California through Kansas City, Mo., and into southwest Missouri. That successful investigation resulted in the seizure of more than 38 pounds of methamphetamine, in excess of $100,000, four vehicles and 89 firearms, along with more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and blasting caps. Numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in both Missouri and Kansas participated in Operation Buckshot.


            Ronald Willis, 63, of Lamar, Mo., and Juan Lara, 61, of Ontario, Calif., were found guilty of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of pure methamphetamine from December 2005 to Aug. 31, 2007. Willis was also found guilty of possessing methamphetamine on Feb. 28, 2007, in Barton County.


            Following the presentation of evidence, the jury in the U.S. District Court in Springfield deliberated about two and a half hours before returning the guilty verdict to U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith on Wednesday, March 26, 2009, ending a trial that began Monday, March 23, 2009.


             Sixteen co-defendants have pleaded guilty to the charges contained in an Oct. 3, 2007, superseding indictment. Michael L. Wilson, 32, Harold Heath Foster, 35, Daniel Jeffrey McCann, 48, Timothy D. Kennon, 48, and Roderick P. Conway, 38, all of Lamar, Joseph M. Kutina, 31, of Milo, Mo., Ronald L. Hampton, 37, of Liberal, Mo., Dustin L. Vittetoe, 34, of Horton, Mo., Michael C. Turner, 46, of Pittsburgh, Kan., Michael Robert Conway, 68, of Freistaff, Mo., Brandon R. Stone, 27, of Nevada, Mo., Moises Medina, 50, of Pueblo, Colo., Jose Lopez, also known as David Cerpa, 40, a citizen of Mexico residing in Ontario, Calif., and Randy S. Lucero, 34, and David C. Paniagua, 39, both of Highland, Calif., have each pleaded guilty to their roles in the methamphetamine conspiracy.


             Lopez admitted that he supplied methamphetamine to Lucero for distribution. Lucero then transported the methamphetamine – usually by a courier traveling via Amtrak – from California to his main distributor, Wilson, in Missouri. Lara, Lopez, Lucero and Medina were arrested in August 2007 when they traveled to Kansas City to deliver a shipment of methamphetamine to Wilson. Police officers discovered 26 individually wrapped packages containing 11.62 kilograms (approximately 25 pounds) of methamphetamine in a hidden compartment of the Chevrolet Trailblazer that was driven by Medina, in which Lopez was a passenger. In addition to the conspiracy, Medina pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute in excess of 500 grams of methamphetamine.


             Wilson admitted that he received multi-pound deliveries of methamphetamine from his suppliers in California. Wilson then distributed the methamphetamine to his distributors in western Missouri and eastern Kansas. Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Wilson’s residence on July 11, 2007, seizing approximately three kilograms of methamphetamine, $37,880 and two vehicles that were used to facilitate the conspiracy.


             Michael Robert Conway admitted that he was paid by Wilson to transport shipments of methamphetamine from Kansas City to Lamar in the bed of his pick-up truck.


             Vittetoe admitted that in June 2007 he approached an agent with the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team (CNET) and attempted to bribe the officer to provide protection for the drug-trafficking organization.


             Hampton also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and to illegally possessing a firearm. Hampton was arrested on Feb. 28, 2007, while in possession of 177.1 grams of pure methamphetamine, which has been fronted (provided on consignment) by Wilson for $19,200, and a Sig Sauer .40-caliber pistol. Law enforcement officers also seized 24 firearms from Hampton’s residence.


             Stone and McCann also pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a firearm.

 

            Under federal statutes, Willis and Lara are each subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.


            This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David P. Rush. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the sheriff’s departments of Vernon, Barton, and Jasper Counties, CNET (the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the police departments of Lamar, Mo., and Nevada, Mo.

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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

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html