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Up to 18 Months for Mendo-Kansas Case Pot Defendants

All but one of the seven Mendocino County marijuana suppliers caught up in a Kansas-based federal drug distribution case have been sentenced. Details about what information and assistance each defendant provided in exchange for a lesser sentence remains confidential. The sentences for the six defendants varied from time served to 18 months in prison.

All seven defendants pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to manufacture, to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, a controlled substance. Each faced a 10 years-to-life sentence. All other charges were dropped.

The guilty pleas were in exchange for cooperation and testimony. In exchange for their complete cooperation the federal prosecutor agreed to drop all other charges and make a sentencing recommendation to the judge based on the perceived value of their testimony.

The drug distribution network began unraveling at the Kansas end with targeted surveillance of the alleged kingpins in Kansas beginning in January 2012. This led federal agents to drug suppliers in California and eventually to Mendocino County over a period of several months. Federal agents intercepted phone calls and drugs. They seized a host of documentation, including a full set of books describing much of the California operation.

Once people in the drug network began pleading guilty, the noose around the remaining participants tightened.

James and Sara Soderling of Fort Bragg were the first from Mendocino County arrested in the Kansas drug trafficking case and the first of the Mendocino area connection to plead guilty. James Soderling was indicted in the first batch of 34 mostly Kansas defendants in July 2012. He was the only person on the original indictment with a Mendocino County connection.

James Soderling was sentenced on Feb. 2 to serve 12 months and one day in prison and two years of supervised release. Sara Soderling was sentenced on Jan. 27 to time served and five years of supervised release.

The federal investigators’ wiretaps and surveillance captured several meetings between the Soderlings and other conspirators. From federal investigations into the Soderlings “through proffer interviews, business records and drug ledgers, investigators identified Henry McCusker, Richard Smith Jr., Jeffrey Wall, John Paul McMillan and Erin Keller as sources of supply of high grade marijuana in California,” according to court records. These defendants were in the last group indicted. Eventually 43 defendants were charged from Missouri to California.

Of the 43 defendants, only three chose to face a trial. Their trial lasted months and the main conspirators were found guilty of multiple felony counts. They are in prison awaiting sentencing.

All Mendocino County defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy prior to the trial.

Wall, 44, of Mendocino, was sentenced in December 2014 to time served and five years of supervised probation. Wall said his role was limited to being a middle man, “contacting growers he knew and aided in the exchange of marijuana for currency.” For this Wall claims he “probably profited $3,000 to $4,000 total.”

McCusker was involved in the Kansas conspiracy since 2009. “McCusker is a grower of high grade marijuana, which he personally supplied to co-defendants. Since 2009, McCusker supplied co-defendants hundreds of pounds of high grade marijuana,” according to court documents. McCusker was sentenced on Jan. 30 to 18 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release including 6 months of house arrest. McCusker was the only Mendocino County defendant who was not initially released on bail and served more than a year in prison prior to pleading guilty.

McMillan and Keller joined the conspiracy in late 2010, according to court documents. “Keller and McMillan had a small marijuana grow in Mendocino, California; however, they were able to acquire large amounts of processed marijuana from sources in California. McMillan transported approximately 40 pounds of high grade marijuana (a street value of $160,000) to Lawrence, Kansas in December 2010,” say court documents.

Investigators documented seven other trips to Kansas by the duo to pick up their cash proceeds. McMillan was sentenced on Jan. 12 to 18 months in prison and 60 months of supervised release. Keller was sentenced to 15 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release.

The last Mendocino County defendant to be sentenced is Richard W. Smith Jr. Smith has objected to his presentence investigation report. He has a sentencing hearing on April 15.

(Courtesy, the Willits News)

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