BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal jury has convicted a 34-year-old Montana man on criminal charges linked to a drug trafficking ring that authorities say brought several hundred pounds of methamphetamine into the state.
Nicholas John Montano of Billings was found guilty Wednesday following a three-day trial on drug distribution and conspiracy charges.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters ordered Montano to remain in custody pending his sentencing on June 24.
He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison. Defense attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The guilty verdict comes as Montana law enforcement blames the meth trade for a spike in violent crime rates in some communities including Billings over the past several years.
Eight other defendants linked to the trafficking ring involving Montano have been convicted and sentenced. Several more are awaiting sentencing, said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Clair Howard.
Authorities say the ring was headed by Joshua Clause, who was sentenced in April to 15 years in prison for convictions on meth and firearms crimes.
Clause supplied Montano with 10 to 15 pounds (4.5 to 6.8 kilograms) of meth and the two traveled together at least once to Bakersfield, California to get meth from a supplier, prosecutors said.
Witnesses said Clause distributed an estimated 350 to 450 pounds (159 to 204 kilograms) of meth through a network of dealers, according to federal prosecutors who said he had two firearms, including an assault rifle hidden in a freezer.