Travis Lee Bethel, 46, of Urbana, Mo., pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Larson today to his role in the drug-trafficking conspiracy and a related money-laundering conspiracy.
Kenneth Bryant Lake, 56, of Strafford, Mo.; Jake Ian Nixon, 20, and Scott Bryan Sands, 52, both of Springfield, Mo.; and Jerry Lee Brown, 43, of Lebanon, Mo.; also pleaded guilty this week to the drug-trafficking and money-laundering conspiracies. Nixon also pleaded guilty to possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.
Kara Rene Baze, 23, of Springfield; Breann Nicole Hall, 25, of Ozark, Mo.; Tara L. Harken, 45, of Marion, Ill.; and Cindy Ann Nevatt, 63, of Gulf Shores, Ala.; each pleaded guilty this week to crossing state lines in aid of racketeering enterprises.
Michelle Vanne Gray, 50, of Springfield, pleaded guilty on Aug. 2, 2017, to maintaining drug-involved premises.
Investigators with the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force, the Springfield, Mo., Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration identified Lake as the original head of the organization coordinating vehicle transport shipments of methamphetamine to Springfield for distribution, as well as shipments of cash drug proceeds out of the area. Lake and Sands also coordinated shipments of methamphetamine and drug proceeds by mail and parcel service to and from the Springfield area.
Lake, Bethel, Sands and Brown admitted their involvement in distributing more than five kilograms of methamphetamine and collecting drug proceeds for the methamphetamine that was delivered.
Bethel also provided co-conspirators with salvage title vehicles, which were traded for methamphetamine and/or paid for with drug proceeds. Bethel assisted in repairing the vehicles, again paid for with the proceeds of drug-trafficking.
Nixon admitted his involvement in the distribution of more than 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine. On July 15, 2015, Nixon was arrested by Springfield police officers for possession of approximately three ounces of methamphetamine and a .32-caliber handgun. Nixon had been purchasing quarter-pound quantities of methamphetamine in Springfield every other day for $3,400.
Nixon was arrested four more times between Jan. 18 and June 9, 2016, for possessing methamphetamine. On three of those occasions, Nixon was also in possession of a firearm.
Brown distributed methamphetamine to numerous people and recruited one of his family members to assist with transporting methamphetamine into the Springfield area.
Conspirators sent shipments of methamphetamine via U.S. Postal Service parcels to Gray’s residence. Gray admitted that she accepted at least three packages at her residence with the agreement to store the packages there until co-conspirators retrieved the packages from her residence. Gray was aware that the packages contained methamphetamine.
Baze, Hall, Harken and Nevatt each admitted that she facilitated the drug-trafficking conspiracy by traveling across state lines. Each of them also admitted that she moved and stored property purchased with drug proceeds or used in the money-laundering and drug-tracking conspiracies, stored drug proceeds, and rented and paid for rooms, cars, or other facilities used in the conspiracies.
Under the terms of their plea agreements, Lake, Bethel, Nixon, Sands and Brown must forfeit to the government up to $1,060,070, which represents the proceeds of drug trafficking based on a conservative average street price of $1,000 per ounce of 90 percent pure methamphetamine and the total conspiracy distribution of at least 30 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Under federal statutes, Bethel is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. Lake, Sands and Brown are each subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. Nixon is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. Gray is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole. Baze, Hall, Harken and Nevatt are each subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole.
The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Rhoades. It was investigated by the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force, the Buchanan County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Springfield, Mo., Police Department, the Lake Area Narcotics Enforcement Group, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS-Criminal Investigation.