20th Defendant in Methamphetamine Conspiracy Pleads Guilty
MADISON, WIS. – Scott C. Blader, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Marcos Castaneda, 37, of Pomona, Calif., pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court in Madison, Wis., to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, with the conspiracy involving more than 500 grams. Castaneda faces up to life in prison, with a mandatory prison term of at least 10 years.
Twenty people have now pleaded guilty as participants in this conspiracy which involved the trafficking of pure methamphetamine (also known as “Ice” or “crystal meth.”) The methamphetamine came from the Pomona, Calif. area. It was then transported by drivers using rental cars to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. From there, the methamphetamine was distributed by an organized network of drug wholesalers and retailers in central Wisconsin. The methamphetamine was sold in Wisconsin communities, both large and small, including Wausau, Merrill, Medford, Abbotsford, Owen, Athens, Eau Claire, and Osseo. The marketing plan of the organization was to flood these communities with inexpensive, pure, and plentiful methamphetamine, in an effort to create more addicts and therefore more customers.
The conspiracy operated from June 2013 to May 2016. During this time, methamphetamine was brought into Wisconsin from Minnesota on a weekly basis, averaging one pound per week. Demand exploded in late 2015 and early 2016, and the trafficking increased to two to three pounds per week. In all, over 58 kilograms (or 127 pounds) of methamphetamine were distributed by the members of this conspiracy. The methamphetamine had a street value of over $5.7 million dollars.
At yesterday’s plea hearing, the government proffered evidence that from May 2015 to May 2016, Castaneda sold five pounds of methamphetamine a month to Joe Kujawa in Minneapolis, who distributed it on a weekly basis to his distributors in Merrill and Wausau, Wisconsin. This network of wholesalers and distributors were the nineteen people charged as participants in the conspiracy. Castaneda told Kujawa the methamphetamine came from a Mexican drug cartel and was delivered from Mexico to Pomona, California. From there, Castaneda used female drivers to transport the loads to Minneapolis, Minnesota using rental cars. Castaneda mailed cash back to the drivers hiding it in boxes containing slippers or boots that were made to look like gifts to the drivers. The methamphetamine transported by car to Minnesota was hidden in ice chests that were filled with ice and sodas, but contained a hidden compartment in the bottom of the ice chests. According to the government, when Castaneda learned one of his drivers had been subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury in Madison in October 2016, Castaneda told the driver to lie about their cash mailings, and to keep quiet about their methamphetamine activities.
The following list identifies all of the defendants and the sentences imposed to date:
- Karen Zais, 49, Merrill, sentenced November 29, 2016 to 6 years;
- Andy Nelson, 32, Merrill, sentenced December 7, 2016 to 4.5 years;
- Jacob Loose, 25, Wausau, sentenced January 9 to 15 years;
- Paul Rasmussen, 35, Osseo, sentenced January 10 to 15 years;
- Matt Drake, 26, Merrill, sentenced February 8 to 12 years;
- Chris Schmeltzer, 46, Merrill, sentenced February 9 to 6 years;
- Ryan Thomas, 24, Wausau, sentenced February 9 to 12.5 years;
- Jamie Pankow, 33, Wausau, sentenced February 10 to 7 years;
- David Vance-Bryan, 30, St. Paul, Minn., sentenced February 16 to 11.5 years;
- David Brandenburg, 26, sentenced February 24 to 9 years;
- Joe Kujawa, 37, Oakdale, Minn., sentenced March 3 to 18 years;
- Kyle Quintana, 24, Wausau, sentenced March 6 to 13 years;
- Anthony Rogers, 24, Athens, sentenced March 7 to 13.5 years;
- Pat Keenan, 30, Wausau, sentenced March 8 to 15 years;
- Jonas Ellwart, 24, Wausau, sentenced April 12 to 10 years;
- Josh Graap, 32, Merrill, sentenced April 12 to 6 years;
- Mike Kjonaas, 41, St. Paul, sentenced April 27 to 11 years;
- Christina Abbott, 34, Merrill, sentenced June 30 to 5.5 years; and
- Danny Graap, 50, Merrill, sentenced June 30 to 10 years.
Castaneda’s sentencing is scheduled for February 16, 2018, at 1:00 p.m., before Chief U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson at the U.S. Courthouse in Madison.
The charges against these 20 defendants are the result of a three-year investigation conducted by the Wausau office of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation; Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office; the Wausau office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Drug Enforcement Administration; Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, Special Investigations Unit; Wausau Police Department; and IRS Criminal Investigation. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Graber.