Posted: Feb 1, 2013 6:56 PM by Irina Cates (Missoula) - MTN News
Christopher Wayne Williams, a 38-year-old resident of Helena, was sentenced in federal court in Missoula on Friday to five years in prison and five years of supervised release for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana; manufacture of marijuana; possession with the intent to distribute marijuana; and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense.
Williams was facing 85 years in prison, but U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said that he felt that an "85-year sentence in this case would be unjust."
So Christensen suggested that the prosecutors and the defense meet in a settlement conference. Williams agreed in that conference to withdraw motions for acquittal and a new trial and in exchange, the prosecutors dismissed six of the charges.
Prosecutors say Williams was one of the leaders in the Montana Cannabis operation that federal agents raided in 2011, where investigators seized more than 40 firearms in that raid, as well as marijuana.
Prosecutors said some of Williams' employees were paid with marijuana, which they later sold to people who were not patients and that those working for him were also trafficking the drug. They added that Williams and of the some of his employees also carried guns.
During sentencing, Williams told the judge, "I never went into this business intending to violate the law."
He also said that even after the raids and going through the court process, he "never lost respect for law enforcement or anyone."
Williams also said that he believed in the system and that's why he chose to go to trial.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office states that the facts established at trial proved the following:
In late 2010, the federal government began to investigate Montana Cannabis. The investigation was prompted, in part, because of complaints from the public about the activities at the former State Nursery facility. It was also prompted by complaints from employees of Montana Cannabis about Williams' volatile behavior. The employees were also worried about the manner in which firearms were part of the culture of the grow operation.
Accordingly, a number of federal agencies began to investigate the conspiracy. The investigation was extensive and included close scrutiny of the conspiracy's banking practices.
On March 14, 2011, search warrants were executed at the Helena grow operation and dispensary, the Flor residence, the Billings dispensary, and the Missoula dispensary. About 950 plants were found at the Helena grow operation. Firearms were also found at that location placed in a manner clearly intended to protect the operation from robbery. Several of the firearms were associated with Dan Nichols, a notorious criminal who served as "armed security" at the Helena grow operation. Significant amounts of marijuana were also found at the Billings, Helena, and Missoula dispensaries.
Williams showed up at the greenhouse in Helena during the search. He stated that the operation there had produced 56 cycles, each of which yielded 150 to 200 ounces of marijuana. Using the lower estimate of 150 ounces per cycle, and assuming each ounce sold at a conservative $200 an ounce, the Helena operation yielded $1,680,000 over the course of the conspiracy. Combined with the amount of proceeds produced at the Miles City address, the conspiracy produced a total of at least $1,728,000 in marijuana.
The search of the Flor residence in Miles City disclosed the presence of marijuana prepared for distribution. An extensive cache of firearms was also found in the residence. Many of those firearms were placed in a manner so that they could be used to protect the operation.
Justin Flor was at the Billings dispensary when it was searched. He had a pistol in the waistband of his pants. Justin Flor stated that his family was preparing to grow marijuana in Miles City as part of its annual outdoor grow. Justin Flor disclosed that Montana Cannabis used bank accounts and he deposited money from the sale of marijuana into at least one of the banks accounts.
Following the sentencing, United States Attorney Michael Cotter said, "Williams repeated claims of 'compliance' with Montana law are simply false. Williams is a convicted marijuana dealer who operated a drug trafficking organization outside both federal and state law. It is also important to remember that Williams used not one, but several weapons in furtherance of his drug trafficking crime. He will serve the remainder of his incarceration in a federal penitentiary. Marijuana, along with heroin, LSD and Ecstasy are all Schedule I controlled substances. Schedule I substances are defined as having no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse."
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the "truth in sentencing" guidelines mandate that Williams will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, Williams does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for "good behavior, but any such reduction will not exceed 15% of the overall sentence.