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Press Release

California Man Who Forged Medical Documents on Pretrial Release and Later Sold Methamphetamine in Jail Sentenced to 30 Years in Federal Prison for Drug Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa
Sterner had 10 prior drug-related convictions.

A California man who conspired to distribute methamphetamine by mail, was sentenced today to 30 years in federal prison.

James Dean Sterner, age 67, from Tustin, California, received the prison term after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine on June 28, 2023.  Evidence in the case revealed that from August 2019 to October 2019, Sterner conspired to distribute methamphetamine in and around Sioux City, Iowa after receiving the methamphetamine via mail.  Sterner was released on pre-trial supervision in 2020 but failed to appear for a change of plea hearing in October 2021, after submitting forged documents to the court falsely claiming to have cancer.  A warrant was issued, but Sterner’s whereabouts were unknown for over a year before he was arrested in April 2023 in Anaheim, California.  After pleading guilty to conspiracy charges, Sterner distributed methamphetamine-laced paper in the O’Brien County Jail while awaiting sentencing.  Sterner has 10 prior controlled substance-related convictions. 

Sterner was sentenced in Sioux City by United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand to 360 months’ imprisonment.  He must also serve a 5-year term of supervised release after the prison term.  There is no parole in the federal system.

Sterner is being held in the United States Marshal’s custody until he can be transported to a federal prison.

This case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Tri-State Drug Task Force based in Sioux City, Iowa, that consists of law enforcement personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration; Sioux City, Iowa, Police Department; Homeland Security Investigations; Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office; South Sioux City, Nebraska, Police Department; Nebraska State Patrol; Iowa National Guard; Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement; United States Marshals Service; South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation; and Woodbury County Attorney’s Office.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ron Timmons and Mikala Purdy-Steenholdt.

Court file information at

The case file number is 20-4088.

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Updated January 31, 2024

Drug Trafficking