Final Defendant Pleads Guilty to Meth Conspiracy
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a Springfield, Mo., man – the eighth and final co-defendant – has pleaded guilty in federal court to his role in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in the Springfield area.
Michael P. Ayala, 37, of Springfield, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush on Tuesday, July 5, 2016, to participating in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and to participating in a money-laundering conspiracy.
Co-defendant Ronda L. Easton, 53, of Springfield, pleaded guilty on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, to the same charges. Ayala and Easton are among eight co-defendants who have pleaded guilty, including Steven A. Easton, 49, James M. Parker, 46, Robert M. Cardenas, Jr., 28, Cody D. Keller, 33, and David M. Climer, 37, all of Springfield, and Michael D. Thompson, 58, of Goodyear, Ariz.
Ayala admitted that he supplied methamphetamine to Steven Easton for distribution in the Springfield area until his wife, Ronda Easton, was released from state prison and took over the methamphetamine distribution operation in Springfield. The methamphetamine arrived by mail and was transported by vehicles from Arizona. Ronda Easton sold pound quantities to Parker, Keller, and Climer. Thompson and Cardenas delivered the methamphetamine by vehicle from Arizona to Missouri.
Ronda Easton admitted that she had been distributing large amounts of methamphetamine that she purchased from Ayala. She paid Ayala $9,000 per pound of methamphetamine and sold it for $12,000 per pound. She stated that she received methamphetamine from Ayala every seven to 10 days and referred to one recent shipment of 10 pounds of methamphetamine.
On April 15, 2015, law enforcement officers in New Mexico stopped a Jeep Commander driven by Cardenas, with Thompson as a passenger, and seized approximately 14.5 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside a compartment near the back of the vehicle. They also seized a bundle that contained 2,228 grams of methamphetamine inside a luggage bag. Cardenas told investigators that Ayala had paid him $1,700 to drive the vehicle from Arizona to Springfield.
The next day, a controlled delivery of methamphetamine was made to Ayala in Springfield. Ayala was arrested in a traffic stop and officers found a Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic pistol in the vehicle, as well as ammunition, syringes, and $19,231. Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Ayala must forfeit the Jeep Commander, the firearm and ammunition, and the cash to the government.
On Jan. 5, 2015, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at a residence shared by Ayala and Ronda Easton. They seized four large Tupperware containers containing a total of approximately 1.5 kilograms of pure methamphetamine, a black brief case containing baggies of methamphetamine and $1,520, a Taurus .410-caliber shotgun, a Cobra .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol, a loaded Quality Firearms .38-caliber revolver, a loaded Springfield Armory 9mm pistol, a Smith and Wesson .40-caliber pistol, and $14,779 in a purse.
Ayala and Ronda Easton admitted that they used the proceeds from distributing methamphetamine to buy assets, which also concealed the source of their proceeds, including a residential property and a 2012 Ford Mustang that must be forfeited to the government.
Under federal statutes, Ayala is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nhan D. Nguyen. It was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Springfield, Mo., Police Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Yavapai County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Department, the Bernalillo County, N.M., Sheriff’s Department, and the Franklin County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department.