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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Jury Finds Kalamazoo Man Guilty Of Methamphetamine Trafficking

Eight coconspirators pled guilty before trial.

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced today that, after four days of trial, a federal jury convicted Michael Donnell Neeley, age 39, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. Neeley, Noel Francisco Saldana, Jesus Manuel Ramirez-Luna, Thomas Lee Cowley, Sheryl Lynn Ayad, Thomas Lewillan Cowley, Jr., Justin Owen Smith, Robert Eugene Nichols, and David Leroy Strickler were charged in December 2017 with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and various other drug and firearm charges. All charged defendants have been convicted.

          The conspiracy began in or around July 2016 when Noel Saldana, the conspiracy’s leader, and Thomas Lee Cowley met Phoenix-based methamphetamine supplier Jesus Ramirez-Luna. Thereafter, Ramirez-Luna supplied Saldana with pounds of methamphetamine on a monthly basis for further redistribution throughout Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties. Ramirez-Luna used the U.S. Postal Service and the United Parcel Service to ship methamphetamine to Saldana and his coconspirators in west Michigan. Saldana coordinated receipt of the methamphetamine deliveries with Thomas Lee Cowley and Sheryl Ayad. After receiving the methamphetamine, Saldana distributed it among Thomas Lee Cowley, Michael Donnell Neeley, Justin Owen Smith, and others for further distribution in west Michigan. The conspiracy ended in December 2017 when federal law enforcement arrested eight of the nine coconspirators on a criminal complaint and executed search warrants at eight locations tied to the conspiracy. Over the course of its investigation, law enforcement intercepted over 11 pounds of crystal methamphetamine from the mail.

          In addition to the methamphetamine conspiracy charge, the jury also found Neeley guilty of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of a firearm after a previous felony conviction. These latter two charges stemmed from over two pounds of marijuana and a firearm found inside Neeley’s residence during a search on December 4, 2017. The methamphetamine conspiracy charge carries a mandatory minimum term of 10 years’ imprisonment up to a maximum term of life imprisonment. Neeley will be sentenced on September 24, 2018.

          His coconspirators, Noel Franscisco Saldana, Jesus Manuel Ramirez-Luna, Thomas Lee Cowley, Sheryl Lynn Ayad, Thomas Lewillan Cowley, Jr., Justin Owen Smith, and David Leroy Strickler, each pled guilty prior to trail to the conspiracy charge and also face a minimum of ten years and up to life in prison. Robert Eugene Nichols pled guilty to lesser charges and faces up to 96 months in prison. These coconspirators are scheduled to be sentenced in July and August.

          The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and assisted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team and the Southwest Enforcement Team, two state-based multijurisdictional narcotics task forces. Dubbed "Operation Crystal Misery," the investigation was part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Program. Established in 1982, the OCDETF Program is designed to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and related criminal enterprises by leveraging the resources and unique expertise of numerous federal agencies in a coordinated attack.

          Assistant United States Attorneys Joel S. Fauson and Stephen P. Baker are handling the prosecution.

END

Updated May 23, 2018