Fishtail Man denies federal meth conspiracy charges
A Fishtail man has pleaded not guilty to federal meth conspiracy charges stemming from the alleged discovery of more than six pounds of methamphetamine authorities contend belong to him.
Merrill Clark Gardner, 61, appeared before Magistrate Judge Carolyn S. Ostby Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
He remanded back into custody following the brief arraignment hearing.
In an indictment filed July 1, Gardner is charged with knowingly and unlawfully conspiring with other people to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine between January 2013 and June 2015 in Fishtail and at other locations in Montana and elsewhere.
Gardner is also charged with possessing with the intent to distribute 500 grams of a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine during the same time period.
Federal prosectors are also seeking a criminal forfeiture which if convicted, would force Gardner to forfeit all property derived from any proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the alleged illegal activity, which includes the following:
•$103,340 in cash
•Miscellaneous pieces of gold and gold coins
•A residence located in Fishtail
According to a criminal complaint filed last month in United States District Court by Special DEA Agent Robert M. Grayson, investigators directed a confidential source to meet Gardner at his Fishtail home to “discuss the distribution of methamphetamine” on June 17.
As investigators watched, Gardner left his residence and returned approximately 30 minutes later with 1 ¼ pound of methamphetamine wrapped in gray duct tape with saw dust around the outside of the tape, according to the complaint.
The confidential informant then took the methamphetamine to investigators, where a field test “yielded positive results” for the presence of methamphetamine.
The following day, June 18, investigators executed a search warrant at Gardner’s home. Another 1 ¼ pounds of methamphetamine wrapped in gray duct tape was allegedly found in Gardner’s truck when he arrived at home as the search was being conducted, according to the complaint. A field test was positive for the presence of methamphetamine.
Another Stillwater County man who was with Gardner at the time of the search told investigators he had driven Gardner to a location in Nye prior to arriving at Gardner’s home on June 18, according to the compliant.
Investigators conducted a consent search at the Nye property were they found three more packages wrapped in gray duct tape and in a large garbage can with saw dust, according to the complaint. Each one of those three packages allegedly contained 1 ¼ pound of what field tested positive for methamphetamine. The owner of the Nye property told investigators he had allowed Gardner to store methamphetamine on his property for at least five years and had been paid by Gardner to do so between $100 and $200 per month, according to the complaint. That brings to a total 6.25 pounds of meth recovered by authorities.
The street value of the drugs was estimated at $566,000, according to Lee Cornell, the Stillwater County Justice of the Peace/Town of Columbus city court judge who until late last year was a Montana Division of Criminal Investigations undercover officer and supervisor.