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Narcotics conviction impacts Lincoln County

by Daily Inter Lake
| April 17, 2009 12:00 AM

A Kalispell man implicated in a drug trafficking operation that funneled large quantities of methamphetamine from Spokane to northwestern Montana has been convicted of federal narcotics charges.

During a hearing last week in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Christopher Thomas Fraleigh, 25, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Seven other people named in a recently unsealed federal indictment also face charges for their roles in the drug trafficking operation.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment Thursday on the ongoing case.

The arrests have “made a significant impact on methamphetamine availability” in the Flathead Valley, Northwest Montana Drug Task Force Commander Russ Papke said.

According to federal court records, Fraleigh became a middleman in a methamphetamine trafficking operation that originated in Spokane with 34-year-old Jamie Lane Lake, also known in Montana as Jamie Lane Conrad.

Lake, allegedly the group’s primary supplier, pleaded not guilty in March to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

Federal prosecutors allege the operation, which started transporting methamphetamine in small quantities, graduated to moving pounds of the drug per week into Flathead and Lincoln counties by the end of 2007.

Lake’s operation accounted for a “substantial amount” of the methamphetamine coming into the Flathead Valley, Papke said.

Fraleigh, who met Lake at a Spokane bar in late spring or early summer 2007, estimated that between September and November that year, Lake was transporting three pounds of methamphetamine a week into Kalispell.

A pound of methamphetamine carries a street value of about $15,000. A gram sells for about $100, Papke said.

The drug operation, which used motel rooms as meeting places and rental cars for transportation, sometimes enlisted runners to move the drugs. Fraleigh’s rented Kalispell trailer served as a meeting place and dealing location, court documents show.

Also indicted for their roles in the trafficking operation are 32-year-old Alfonzo Hector Pena of Kalispell, 35-year-old Donovan Wayne Dehnel of Spokane, 42-year-old Deanna Rae Hamilton of Spokane, 39-year-old Daniel Lyn Bennett of Flathead and Lincoln counties, 38-year-old Scott Allen Shirley of Kalispell, and 29-year-old Justin Bradford Hessler of Kalispell.

They each have entered not-guilty pleas to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

Conviction on the charges carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years’ incarceration or up to life in prison.

Fraleigh is scheduled to be sentenced July 10.

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office drug task force officers began assisting the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in October 2007, kick starting the investigation through surveillance and informant buys.

The 16-month investigation, which used both confidential informants and undercover officers, was conducted by the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

At any given time, the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force – made up of sheriff officers from Lincoln, Flathead and Lake counties – usually is working on one or two cases similar in size to the recently busted trafficking operation, Papke said.

(The Western News contributed to this story).