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Feds link man stopped with 50 lbs of drugs in Wyoming to California trafficker
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Feds link man stopped with 50 lbs of drugs in Wyoming to California trafficker

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Scales of Justice

A man convicted of drug trafficking last week by a federal jury in Casper is linked to a stash house raid in California that turned up more than 130 pounds of drugs, federal prosecutors say.

The federal jury early Friday evening in Casper convicted Arnold D. Butler, 53, of Rio Linda, California, of five drug trafficking crimes following a May traffic stop of his tow truck.

On May 14, investigators working on the side of Interstate 80 east of Cheyenne found a drug shipment — totaling more than 50 pounds of heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine — inside a hidden compartment located in the back of a salvage title sedan Butler was carrying on his truck. Butler told investigators at the scene that a person whose name he did not know had asked him to take the sedan to Nebraska. At the end of the weeklong trial, jurors took about five hours to find in favor of the government. Butler awaits sentencing, and federal guidelines listed in court documents call for him to serve a minimum of 15 years imprisonment.

Proceedings, however, continue in California. The man accused of operating the Sacramento stash house — which, prosecutors there say, had almost 100 pounds of meth inside, in addition to about 30 pounds of other illegal drugs — has not yet been tried in the case. The criminal complaint that alleges Armando C. Tabarez ran the stash house states that he faces a count of possession to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Court documents do not indicate if prosecutors have convened a grand jury to indict Tabarez on further charges.

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The complaint, though, does indicate that authorities began investigating Tabarez only after an informant tipped off the government to a tie to the Wyoming arrest.

In the document, an FBI agent states that a person facing criminal charges in a separate drug case told the bureau about two weeks after the Wyoming arrest that Butler and Tabarez were connected. The informant — whom the complaint does not identify by name — told investigators that Tabarez was coordinating drug runs between Sacramento and southern California. Drug Enforcement Administration agents also found text messages between Butler and Tabarez, according to court documents, that showed them planning for a drug run days before the Wyoming traffic stop.

The informant told investigators as well that Tabarez was operating the stash house in Sacramento, according to the documents. The court filing states that the next day, FBI agents began surveilling the lakefront apartment in Sacramento that doubled as a drug den.

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Tabarez, according to the documents, had another man rent the apartment under his name and was therefore not connected in the paperwork associated with that address. However, the phone number that federal agents say Tabarez used to text Butler was listed on paperwork that Tabarez had provided to the state of California in connection with his ongoing parole in a different case.

About a half week after the FBI began surveilling the Sacramento apartment, agents spotted Tabarez carrying a cardboard box into the house, the documents state. When Tabarez left the stash house the same morning, a local drug task force officer tried to pull over the minivan he was driving. The documents state, though, that Tabarez instead sped off.

Pursuing law enforcement saw Tabarez abandon the minivan about a mile and a half from the alleged stash house, where, according to the documents, he jumped into the Sacramento River while carrying a plastic grocery bag and a cellphone. As agents watched and shouted from the shore, he emptied two large zip-close bags of what appeared to be methamphetamine into the river, the documents state.

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Police found two cellphones on the shore of the river and a third in the minivan, according to the documents. Also in the minivan, law enforcement found more than $15,000 cash, the documents state. After searching the apartment, investigators say they found about 130 pounds of illegal drugs, mostly methamphetamine, but also heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Also inside the apartment were drug-packaging paraphernalia, including scales, bags and a cocaine cutting agent, the documents state.

Although Tabarez was not indicted in the Wyoming proceedings, lawyers discussed his ongoing case before jurors. During Monday’s opening statements, U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen said that Butler was an experienced drug runner who — investigators’ cellphone tracking indicated — likely had run drugs from southern California to a Tabarez’s stash house in Sacramento.

Butler did not contest at trial that the drugs were found in the car. However, after a failed pre-trial attempt to keep evidence of the drugs from jurors, claiming that the traffic stop was illegal, Butler’s lawyer argued that his client did not know the drugs were inside the vehicle.

Keith Nachbar, the defense lawyer who represented Butler at trial, told jurors that Butler and Tabarez were connected, but not via the drug trade. They were long-term friends and unrelated to drug smuggling, Nachbar said during his opening statement. Tabarez’s legal issues were his own, the lawyer said.

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In a written statement issued Tuesday, Klaassen — who prosecuted the case against Butler along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Sprecher — called for continued drug enforcement on Wyoming roads.

“Unfortunately our highways are being used by drug traffickers to bring addictive substances from smuggling gateways in places like California to distribute them across the nation, in some cases using commercial vehicles to disguise their illegal cargo,” Klaassen said. “We must continue our efforts at all levels of law enforcement to disrupt this flow and protect our communities.”

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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