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Press Release

Kalamazoo Man Sentenced To Over Nineteen Years For Methamphetamine Trafficking

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Michigan

Sentence concludes investigation and prosecution of nine-member methamphetamine distribution ring operating in Kalamazoo and Van Buren Counties

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — U.S. Attorney Andrew Byerly Birge announced today that Michael Donnell Neeley, age 39, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff to 235 months in prison for participating in a methamphetamine distribution ring that operated in Kalamazoo and Van Buren Counties from July 2016 to December 2017. In addition to his prison term, the Court sentenced Neeley to five years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a fine of $3,000.

          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. Neeley, the only charged co-conspirator to go to trial, was convicted by a jury on May 17, 2018. He was the last defendant to be sentenced. Judge Neff sentenced Neeley’s co-defendants earlier this year to the following:

  • Noel Francisco Saldana of Hartford, Michigan: 210 months
  • Jesus Manuel Ramirez-Luna of Phoenix, Arizona: 121 months
  • Thomas Lee Cowley of Kalamazoo, Michigan: 136 months
  • Sheryl Lynn Ayad of Kalamazoo, Michigan: one day time served plus two years of weekend confinement
  • Thomas Lewillan Cowley, Jr. of Kalamazoo, Michigan: 120 months
  • Justin Owen Smith of Watervliet, Michigan: 120 months
  • Robert Eugene Nichols of Kalamazoo, Michigan: 36 months
  • David Leroy Strickler of Galesburg, Michigan: 12 months and one day

Judge Neff determined that Neeley merited an increased sentence due to his extensive criminal history, for possessing a firearm during the conspiracy, and for committing perjury while testifying in his own defense at trial.

          The conspiracy began in approximately 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 co-conspirators in west Michigan. Saldana coordinated receipt of the methamphetamine deliveries with Thomas Lee Cowley and Sheryl Ayad. After receiving the methamphetamine, Saldana distributed it to Thomas Lee Cowley, Neeley, Smith, and others for further distribution in west Michigan. The conspiracy ended in December 2017 when federal law enforcement officers arrested eight of the nine defendants on a criminal complaint and executed search warrants at eight locations tied to the conspiracy. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement authorities intercepted more than 11 pounds of crystal methamphetamine from the mail.

          "Crystal methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that causes ruin to its users and users’ loved ones. Those that traffic in this pernicious substance justifiably face stiff prison sentences," stated Birge. "This investigation was a great example of the strong partnerships that exist among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the Western District of Michigan."

          "Make no mistake, this organization preyed on our communities and destroyed west Michigan neighborhoods by distributing methamphetamine and various drugs. These sentencings are a step toward disrupting the poison pushers in America," stated Timothy J. Plancon, Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

          "The cooperative partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement brought the Saldana drug trafficking organization to a halt," said Patricia A. Armstrong, Inspector in Charge of the Detroit Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. "The stiff sentences handed down in this case should serve as a stern warning to others that Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners will vigorously pursue those who criminally misuse the U.S. Mail to traffic deadly narcotics into our local communities."

          "We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this case. Our partnership with the federal and state agencies has proven to be effective in removing criminals from our communities," stated Mike Kelley, Executive Lieutenant of the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team. "This case proves that these partnerships provide a means to completely dismantle an entire drug trafficking organization from the street level dealers to the source of supply."

          "Southwest Michigan has been hit hard by the influx of crystal methamphetamine. We are thankful for the great partnerships between law enforcement, prosecutors, and our allies in the prevention and treatment sector," stated Richard Pazder, Detective/First Lieutenant with the Southwest Enforcement Team. "Excellent cases like this one highlight our resolve to address the growing threat to our communities and our commitment to improve the quality of life for our citizens."

          The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and assisted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team (KVET) and the Southwest Enforcement Team (SWET), 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 U.S. Attorneys Joel S. Fauson and Stephen P. Baker handled the prosecution.


Updated September 26, 2018

Drug Trafficking