Michael Anthony Peters, David Paul Peters, Steven Paul Peters Gina Marie Vargas Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Cour
Bill Mercer, United States Attorney for the District of Montana, announced today that during a federal court session in Missoula on June 24, 2009, before U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, MICHAEL ANTHONY PETERS, age 46, DAVID PAUL PETERS, age 47, STEVEN PAUL PETERS, age 21, residents of Missoula, and GINA MARIE VARGAS, a 45-year-old resident of Tacoma, Washington, pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute heroin. Sentencing is set for 23, 2009. They are currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by the United States, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
Black Tar heroin, an illegal and highly addictive opiate drug, is a variety of heroin produced primarily in Mexico.
An investigation by agents of the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Sheriff's Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration uncovered evidence that three members of a Missoula family - brothers MICHAEL and DAVID PETERS and MICHAEL'S son, STEVEN PETERS, had been actively distributing Black Tar heroin in the Missoula area since 2006. The investigation determined that their source of supply for the heroin was GINA VARGAS, a Tacoma, Washington resident.
In March of 2007, the Missoula Police Department Street Crimes Unit received information that a person later identified as STEVEN PETERS was obtaining quarter pound (4 oz.) quantities of heroin for distribution in the Missoula community. The heroin was reported to have been arriving at the bus station after having been flattened and placed in a manila envelope. Each four-ounce shipment had a value of approximately $3,000.
On April 23, 2007, STEVEN PETERS was stopped by Missoula police. In the vehicle, officers located 35.5 grams (11/4 oz) of Black Tar heroin, which he admitted was his own. Officers also found a "fix kit" - any container used to store the paraphernalia necessary to ingest or inject illegal drugs - which contained 5 used needles, a spoon, and the bottom portion of a burnt soda can. He was also carrying $1,060 in $20 bills, and three $10 bills, for a total of $1,090 in currency. In his bag officers found two more rolls of $20 bills - with $1,000 in each roll - for a total of $2,000. STEVEN PETERS later admitted to law enforcement officers that he made trips to Washington State about once a month where he picked up an ounce and a half of heroin per trip, and then shipped it to himself by bus to avoid getting caught with the drug on the return trip.
Later that year, on September 24, 2007, the Missoula Police Department (MPD) obtained a search warrant for a motel room that was being used as a staging area for the use and distribution of heroin. An informant had advised the MPD that on September 19, 2007, several people had purchased $250 worth of heroin from a female at the motel. Joined by officers assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, the officers entered the motel room and discovered two males and a female. One of the males was identified as STEVEN PETERS. The other male was a relative of his. A search of the room revealed syringes, both used and unused. One syringe was "charged," meaning that it had been filled with heroin for later use. The color of the liquid in the charged syringe was the same color as Black Tar heroin. Officers also discovered several small plastic bags which had been torn into small pieces. The heroin common in the Missoula area had viscous properties - being sticky and adhesive - and must be packaged in plastic to prevent absorption into the container. Officers also located a digital scale - commonly used for weighing out small measures of narcotics - on a table in the motel room. The male occupant was interviewed and admitted that he had used heroin in the past, but denied active use. He identified STEVEN PETERS as a distributor of heroin. He indicated that STEVEN PETERS had become involved with heroin after visiting his uncle in Tacoma.
The following year, on May 6, 2008, MICHAEL PETERS was arrested in Missoula. At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of small amounts of methamphetamine and marijuana and drug paraphernalia. MICHAEL PETERS and his female companion in the vehicle agreed to cooperate with agents of the HIDTA. The two provided substantial information about others involved in the drug trade in the Missoula area.
Later in 2008, the MPD received information that MICHAEL PETERS was distributing heroin which he was obtaining from a source in Washington. On October 10, 2008, his vehicle was stopped in Missoula. MICHAEL PETERS, his brother DAVID PETERS, and the woman he had been traveling with when arrested in May were in the car. A search of the vehicle revealed a blue metal container which held three individually wrapped packages of Black Tar heroin. MICHAEL admitted at the scene that DAVID had supplied the heroin found in the car. That fact was confirmed by the female occupant of the car.
DAVID PETERS was interviewed and admitted that the heroin found in the car was his and that he had brought about 5 grams of heroin with him from western Washington. He denied he was distributing heroin - claimed that the heroin was for his personal use - but agreed to cooperate with authorities.
At about the same time, an informant was advising the MPD that members of the PETERS family and their companions were staying at a local motel in Missoula and distributing heroin from that room. MPD surveillance, initiated in November 2008, recorded unusual short-term traffic into and out of the room, a pattern consistent with narcotics activity. Vehicles were also present which officers recognized as vehicles belonging to the PETERS' family. Police were also able to identify several known heroin users entering and exiting the motel room. A concerned citizen also found used syringes and needles in the adjacent alley which were turned over the MPD.
Surveillance continued, on and off, through December 2008 and into January 2009. An informant advised officers that he or she had seen at least three grams of Black Tar heroin packaged for sale in the motel room.
On January 15, 2009, a search warrant was executed at which time MICHAEL and DAVID PETERS and were arrested. Officers found MICHAEL PETERS holding a syringe and appeared to be attempting to empty its contents. The syringe was filled with a black substance consistent with the color of Black Tar heroin. Another "charged" syringe was also discovered. A safe located under the bed was found to contain packaging material and marijuana. Officers also found a digital scale and in a box of men's clothing, a small white case which itself contained a smaller blue case. Inside of the blue container an agent found a chunk of Black Tar heroin (28+ grams). Next to the box of clothes was a woman's purse with four syringes and needles in the bottom. Two of the syringes were filled with a black colored substance consistent with heroin.
In DAVID PETERS' room, officers discovered a small black case containing two baggies which each held smaller plastic packages of a black substance later determined to be heroin. The bag also contained a syringe and a spoon, both common implements for the use of heroin. The officers found that the two plastic bags contained 52 one-half gram doses of heroin. Half gram amounts are the common street sale units of distribution in the heroin trade.
STEVEN PETERS' girlfriend was later interviewed and told agents that STEVEN had
Paulie" (DAVID PAUL PETERS) and his father, MICHAEL PETERS. Beginning in about December of 2005, STEVEN had traveled to Washington State by bus every 3 to 4 weeks to obtain heroin, generally returning with two ounces (56 grams). STEVEN paid $400 per ounce for the heroin and would sell half and use half (along with his girlfriend and other friends and relatives). After STEVEN was arrested in March of 2006, his girlfriend went into treatment and remained free of the drug until November of 2008, when she started using heroin obtained from DAVID and MICHAEL PETERS. During this time - November 2008 until January 2009 - she knew that DAVID or MICHAEL PETERS were making trips to Tacoma, Washington, to obtain heroin for sale in the Missoula area, and for their use and the use of their family and friends. She knew that the source of heroin supply was the same for all three members of the PETERS family.
MICHAEL PETERS was interviewed and admitted to his role in the distribution of heroin. He identified his source of supply as GINA VARGAS, a woman he had met approximately two years earlier through his brother DAVID. He had been living in Tacoma at the time and was obtaining quarter oz. (4 grams) quantities of heroin from VARGAS on a weekly basis. After returning to Missoula, MICHAEL admitted he had made regular drug runs to Tacoma to obtain heroin, usually returning to Missoula with three ounces. He also confirmed that DAVID had made drug runs to Tacoma and that VARGAS was the source of heroin supply for STEVEN, who made regular bus trips to Tacoma to buy heroin. MICHAEL claimed that he had seen VARGAS in possession of as much as two 10-oz. bricks of Black Tar heroin on one occasion.
MICHAEL PETERS' girlfriend was interviewed and admitted that she and MICHAEL were regular heroin users. She confirmed that MICHAEL would make regular drug runs to Tacoma and that his source of heroin supply was a woman named "Gina" (VARGAS). On some occasions, she had accompanied MICHAEL on drug runs. She admitted that she had accompanied him to Tacoma to obtain heroin from VARGAS about one week before the January 15th search. She estimated that drug runs were being made about once a week for a five month period, and that 2 to 4 ounces would be obtained from VARGAS each time. The group paid VARGAS $400 an ounce (28 grams) for the heroin and then sold it for $100 a gram or $50 per half-gram.
When arrested on April 22, 2009, VARGAS admitted that she had been the source of heroin supply for DAVID PETERS, MICHAEL PETERS and STEVEN PETERS.
VARGAS admits that she agreed to provide, and provided, heroin to them for distribution and that the cumulative amount of the heroin possessed with that intent - over a period of time and to all three men - exceeded one hundred grams.
MICHAEL PETERS, DAVID PETERS and GINA VARGAS each face possible penalties of a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and could be sentenced to life, a $4,000,000 fine and at least 5 years supervised release.
STEVEN PETERS faces possible penalties of a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison and could be sentenced to 40 years, a $2,000,000 fine and at least 4 years supervised release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad prosecuted the case for the United States.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, and the Missoula High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force.
A copy of the Offer of Proof can be obtained by contacting Sally Frank at (406) 247-4638.