Xiao Meng Ma Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Missoula, on November 26, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen, XIAO MENG MA, a 23-year-old resident of Anaheim, California, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute 100 or more kilograms of marijuana. Sentencing has been set for March 15, 2013. She is currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Racicot, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On June 16, 2012, at approximately 11:30 p.m., a Montana Highway Patrol trooper pulled over a van for speeding outside of Bozeman. MA was driving the van and an individual identified here as X.X., who had rented the van from Budget Rental, was riding in the passenger seat. The trooper smelled marijuana in the van when he approached the passenger window. MA told the trooper that she was accompanying X.X., who was moving to New York, and that the duffle bags belonged to X.X.
The trooper issued MA a ticket for speeding and eventually searched the six duffle bags in the back of the van. Each bag contained several, vacuum-sealed packages of marijuana, totaling approximately 115 kilograms. Both MA and X.X. were arrested and later interviewed. MA did not make any statements during her interview, but X.X. stated that she came to the United States in 2010, that she rented the van because MA was too young, that MA took the van for awhile after X.X. rented it, and that the marijuana in the van did not belong to MA or her. X.X. also said that MA told her that she (MA) was going to New York for some business, and X.X. said she went along to keep MA company and visit some friends in New York.
On June 18, 2012, while being transporting for their initial appearances in court in MIssoula, MA asked the officer about the location of her cell phone. The officer told her it was probably still in the van and MA explained that she needed to call the guy who gave her the bags and his number was in her phone.
MA, an authorized driver on X.X.'s rental contract, had also been an authorized driver for another rental van of the same make and model just one week earlier. That van, like X.X.'s, was rented in Everett, Washington. It was returned in Everett on June 11, 2012, five days before X.X. rented the second van. The van traveled 5,898 miles, which is the approximate distance from Everett, Washington to New York City, and back.
MA faces possible penalties of a mandatory minimum of 5 years and could be sentenced to 40 years, a $5,000,000 fine, and 4 years supervised release.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Missouri River Drug Task Force and the Montana Highway Patrol.