Two Pierre women, Tanya Jeanette Andrews and Paris Bryn Koller, and five other South Dakotans were sentenced recently to federal prison terms in a “large-scale methamphetamine conspiracy,” U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons announced Wednesday.
All seven received mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years and maximum sentences of life in prison. And, all seven ended up pleading guilty and taking shorter prison terms.
Andrews, 44, and Koller, 26, were sentenced late last year to 10 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation.
It was a long-lasting investigation, taking months to get all the loose ends.
In May 2019, a federal judge ordered the second superseding indictment, or list of charges against the seven, be sealed from public purview until Andrews, who had just been charged under the new indictment, could be arrested.
Andrews also has used the last names of Ponce, Hightower and Santiago, according to court documents.
Andrews and Koller separately admitted that starting at “some unknown date,” until about Nov. 7, 2018, they obtained meth from other members of the ring and sold it in the Sioux Falls area.
“During my involvement with the conspiracy, I introduced a person who wanted to buy methamphetamine to a co-conspirator,” Paris Koller said in her “factual basis statement” required as part of her guilty plea in June 2019. “That person began buying methamphetamine from my co-conspirator. I agreed with that person to purchase methamphetamine from my co-conspirator in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and deliver it to that person.”
Andrews made a similar statement to the court in August 2019.
U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier in Sioux Falls on Sept. 23, 2019, sentenced Koller to 10 years in federal prison followed by five years of supervised probation.
Schreier imposed a similar sentence on Andrews on Dec. 2, 2019.
There is no parole in the federal prison system; but inmates typically get 54 days of a sort of “good time,”for each year served. That would mean about 1.5 years knocked off a 10-year sentence.
Andrews’ time in Pierre included two sentences in the state Women’s Prison. In 2010 she was sentenced in Sioux Falls to 9 years, 7 months, with 4 years suspended for one drug crime and 10 years, all suspended, on a second similar count. She apparently was released at her initial parole hearing after about 17 months.
On Jan. 19, 2018, Andrews was sentenced in Rapid City to 5 years, with time suspended, for a drug crime; she remains on active parole with the state Department of Corrections.
Koller, too, was sentenced on a drug charge to the state prison and remains on parole in that case even as she has been sentenced to federal prison.
Others in the conspiracy: Nicholas Scott Flier, 26, of Valley Springs, South Dakota, Brandon Alan Watters, 25, of Sioux Falls, Kasie Mae Vogt, 31, of Armour; and Amanda Leigh Wieman, 32, of Sioux Falls. They each pleaded guilty and were sentenced in late 2019 to 10 years in federal prison and 5 years of supervised probation.
But the ringleader, Justin Robert Christensen, 31, just got sentenced on Monday, Feb. 10, in Sioux Falls, to 23.3 years followed by 10 years of supervised probation.
Here’s why he got more time:
Investigators found he had obtained more than 10 pounds of meth on the “Dark Web,” and parceled it out to the others in the ring who did the retail sales and collections, Parsons said in his news release on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
The “dark web” is a part of the internet that can only be accessed using a special browser that allows people to hide their identity and get involved in a variety of nefarious and often criminal activities, including buying illegal drugs, child porn, and counterfeit money or stolen credit cards, for example.
As part of his plea deal, Christensen admitted, “I used the Dark Web to purchase methamphetamine“and had it mailed to me in South Dakota. I distributed the methamphetamine to co-conspirators who then sold it to drug customers in South Dakota and elsewhere.”
He amassed more than $200,000 and then laundered it to hide it from the feds, according to Parsons and court documents.
“A co-conspirator and I deposited the cash proceeds from the methamphetamine sales into accounts in South Dakota banks and would then purchase Bitcoin through a Coinbase account,” Christensen told the court. “This was done in whole or in part to conceal or disguise the control of the proceeds, and so that I could use the proceeds to purchase additional controlled substances, including methamphetamine, through the Dark Web. . .“
Christensen was sentenced for the meth conspiracy and the money laundering scheme. He had faced up to life in prison on the charges before he cut a deal with prosecutors.
An earlier charge of being a felon in possession of several guns was dropped as part of his plea deal. But he had to agree to forfeit two semi-automatic AK-style rifles, three 12-gauge shotguns and a Beretta Luger-style semi-automatic pistol.
Parsons said the investigation included the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations and the Sioux Falls Area Drug Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Mammenga prosecuted the seven.
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