Joseph James Chartraw Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Billings, on July 25, 2012, before Chief U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull, JOSEPH JAMES CHARTRAW, a 26-year-old resident of Billings, pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. Sentencing has been set for October 24, 2012. He is currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica T. Fehr, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On July 20, 2010, a Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office deputy initiated a traffic stop on a black 2010 Mercedes Benz SUV after running the license plate and determining that the owner, CHARTRAW, had a valid arrest warrant. CHARTRAW provided a false name to the deputy but ultimately admitted to his true identity. A narcotics-detecting K-9 was called to the scene, and positively alerted on the vehicle for the presence of narcotic odors. CHARTRAW was questioned and claimed nothing illegal was in the vehicle, but said it was registered to his father, who had a medical marijuana card out of Washington State. CHARTRAW then stated a small amount of marijuana was in the vehicle, as well as $15,000 in cash.
When interviewed by law enforcement after the traffic stop, CHARTRAW stated a week earlier, he had left his house with $15,000 to $20,000 in cash after a domestic dispute with his wife. He advised that the vehicle was not his, and that he earned the money lawfully through his father's commercial fishing business in Washington, as he was a commercial fisherman.
The vehicle was impounded pending a search warrant application. On July 21, 2010, detectives interviewed CHARTRAW's wife. His wife stated CHARTRAW was employed as a commercial fisherman, but when she told investigators that CHARTRAW left once a month to Washington State on a Friday and returned on Tuesday with large sums of cash, she found it suspicious. She also told investigators that CHARTRAW carries a drug ledger with him, and in the past, she has known him to distribute marijuana as far back as when the couple met in college approximately three years ago.
On July 22, 2010, the detectives obtained a search warrant for the vehicle. A subsequent search yielded airline tickets, a cell phone, documents, $14,154 in cash, a drug ledge and user amounts of marijuana. While examining CHARTRAW's drug ledger, located in the Mercedes Benz, it was noted that he had the ledger broken down by individual dealer, which he identified with a number. Although there were no dates listed on the ledger, the aggregate amount of marijuana "fronted" to the twelve individuals noted totaled $316,870. The aggregate amount of cash received in payment, according to the ledgers, was $168,985.
Pursuant to a search warrant, detectives had the cellular telephone seized from the vehicle analyzed. The contents revealed that CHARTRAW had been involved with selling multiple pounds of marijuana, as well as transporting tens of thousands of dollars in cash. He provided some contacts with his bank account information, and asked that they deposit the funds owed to him into the accounts. Some of the text messages on the phone blatantly discussed prices for pounds of marijuana, smuggling bulk cash via the airlines, having bulk cash from drug proceeds deposited into bank accounts, and dealing marijuana to the Indian reservations in Montana. According to the text messages on the phone, marijuana was distributed to Browning, Polson, Crow Agency, as well as Havre, St. Ignatius, Great Falls, Missoula, Cut Bank, Lolo, and other places throughout Montana.
The search of the cell phone also indicated that CHARTRAW had cellular contact with a subject with a Eureka, California, cell phone number. The Eureka, California, phone number appears to be a source of supply for CHARTRAW. One text message on the cell phone indicated that CHARTRAW was ordering ten (10) pounds of marijuana at a time from the source.
Several of CHARTRAW's co-conspirators admitted to distributing pounds of marijuana for CHARTRAW. One co-conspirator admitted to driving "load" vehicles of marijuana from California back to Montana. Another co-conspirator admitted to allowing CHARTRAW to "stash" thousands of dollars in cash from the sale and purchase of marijuana in his residence.
The evidence would prove that more than 100 kilograms of marijuana was possessed with the intent to distribute by CHARTRAW and his co-conspirators during the course of the conspiracy and that it was reasonably foreseeable to CHARTRAW that the conspiracy involved more than 100 kilograms of marijuana.
CHARTRAW faces possible penalties of a mandatory minimum of 5 years and could be sentenced to 40 years, a $2,000,000 fine, and four years supervised release.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Billings Big Sky Safe Streets Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.