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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Iowa

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Four Marijuana Dealers, Including Colorado Pilot, Sentenced After Extensive Wiretap Investigation

Contact: Steve Young

Four individuals, including a man who grew marijuana in his Breckenridge, Colorado home and flew it to Eastern Iowa in his private airplane were each sentenced this week for their roles in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy.  They are the latest defendants to be sentenced as a result of an extensive DEA wiretap investigation.

James Allen, Matthew Fritz, Mark Swanson, and Cory Kintzel all pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and were sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade. 

  • Allen, 53, from Belton, Missouri, was sentenced on January 8, 2015 to six months’ imprisonment followed by three months’ home detention.  Allen pled guilty on August 18, 2014 and will report to the Bureau of Prisons on a later date.
  • Fritz, 39, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was sentenced on January 8, 2015 to five years’ probation.  Fritz was also fined $3,000.  Fritz pled guilty on August 18, 2014.
  • Kintzel, 39, from Vinton, Iowa, was sentenced on January 6, 2015 to 12 months’ imprisonment.  Kintzel pled guilty on September 16, 2014 and will report to the Bureau of Prisons on a later date.
  • The pilot, Swanson, 55, from Breckenridge, Colorado, was sentenced on January 7, 2015 to 24 months’ imprisonment and fined $10,000.  The fine was in addition to a $35,000 money judgment that Swanson was required to pay.  Swanson’s airplane was also forfeited.

In addition to their sentences and fines, all five were ordered to pay special assessments of $100.  Those serving prison sentences must also serve three-year terms of supervised release after their prison terms.  There is no parole in the federal system. 

The four individuals were among a group of about a dozen persons federally charged for their involvement in a marijuana trafficking organization that moved large quantities of high-grade marijuana from Colorado and California to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area from November 2011 through April 2013.  The organization was dismantled through a DEA investigation that involved court-authorized wiretaps on multiple cellular phones.  During the latter stages of the conspiracy, Swanson was the source for most of the marijuana.  In March 2013, he flew a load containing 25 pounds of marijuana from Colorado into the Iowa City airport.  Swanson was accompanied by Shannon Ehlts, who along with Matthew Fritz was going to sell the marijuana to customers in the Cedar Rapids area.  Swanson grew most of this marijuana at his home.  The marijuana was sold at a price of $3,450 or more per pound.  Swanson admitted that he alone had made at least $35,000 from growing and selling marijuana. 

Five other individuals have already been sentenced by Chief Judge Reade as a result of the investigation:

  • Nels Nelson, 34, from Cedar Rapids, was sentenced on April 21, 2014 to 41 months’ imprisonment.
  • Chad Straub, 40, from Salinas, California, was sentenced on May 29, 2014 to 13 months’ and one day imprisonment.
  • Robert Leonard, 55, from Oak Run, California, was sentenced on September 25, 2014 to 46 months’ imprisonment.
  • Brenda Leonard, 51, from Oak Run, California, was sentenced on September 25, 2014 to two years’ probation.
  • Tyler Scheer, 26, from Cedar Rapids, was sentenced on December 22, 2014 to nine months’ imprisonment and fined $3,000.

Three participants in the conspiracy still await sentencing:  

  • Jesse Tolen, 36, from Castella, California, is scheduled to be sentenced on January 15, 2015 at 10:30 a.m.  Tolen pled guilty on July 1, 2014 to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Corey Marx, 29, from Cedar Rapids, is scheduled to be sentenced on January 15, 2015 at 4:15 p.m.  Marx pled guilty on September 16, 2014 to conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
  • Shannon Ehlts, 38, from Lowden, Iowa, awaits sentencing on his August 18, 2014 guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute marijuana.  A sentencing date has not yet been set.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Cole and Justin Lightfoot, and investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Task Force as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program of the United States Department of Justice.  The DEA Task Force consists of the DEA; the Linn County Sheriff's Office; the Cedar Rapids Police Department; the Marion Police Department; the Iowa City Police Department; and the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement.

Court file information is available at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/ login.pl.  The case file numbers are as follows:  Swanson 14-CR-66; Nelson 14-CR-6; Straub 14-CR-20; Robert and Brenda Leonard 14-CR-37; Tolen 14-CR-39; Fritz 14-CR-78; Ehlts 14-CR-79; Scheer 14-CR-82; Marx 14-CR-85; Allen 14-CR-86; and Kintzel 14-CR-92.
Updated February 19, 2015