11 years for 78 pounds of meth

Stillwater County case is state’s largest meth case on traffic stop
Thursday, March 18, 2021
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Nicholas James Imhoff (YCDF photo)

The Florida man caught with 78 pounds of methamphetamine during an I-90 traffic stop in Stillwater County in February 2020 will spend 11 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release.

Nicholas James Imhoff, a 30-year-old from Cape Coral, Fla., admitted to possession with intent to distribute methamphetmine in what is the state’s largest meth seizure ever made on a traffic stop.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office estimates the street value of the drugs at between $624,000 to $1,248,000. A Drug Enforcement Administration lab determined the meth was 98 percent pure and equaled more than a quarter of a million doses, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Billings.

Imhoff was sentenced in federal district court in Billings on Tuesday, March 16. In September 2020, he entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors after attempts to have certain evidence against him suppressed failed. The plea agreement involved the dismissal of one count of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

Imhoff had faced a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence.

“With this traffic stop of Mr. Imhoff’s vehicle, the Montana Highway Patrol prevented a staggering amount of nearly pure methamphetamine from hitting the streets and harming communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Johnson in a press release. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is dedicated to dealing with the problem of meth in our communities. We need to reduce both supply and demand. One way to reduce supply is demonstrated by this case. Meth traffickers caught in Montana will be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen echoed those sentiments.

“Meth is the driving force behind the surge in violent crime across our state in recent years. One Highway Patrol trooper’s vigilance resulted in one of the largest drug interdictions in state history and kept a massive amount of meth off the streets,” said Knudsen in a press release. “The Highway Patrol and entire Montana Department of Justice will continue to pursue and crack down on the people who are flooding our communities with dangerous drugs.”

THE CASE

The case unfolded when Imhoff was stopped for driving 86 mph in an 80 mph zone on I-90 on Feb. 11, 2020.

The traffic stop was initiated by a Montana Highway Patrol criminal interdiction trooper at 10:26 a.m. at mile marker 392, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent.

The van Imhoff was driving had been rented for five days from Las Vegas, Nev. Imhoff told the trooper he was travelling to work in North Dakota.

The trooper noted that there was a small suitcase in the van, as well as food wrappers, a carton of cigarettes and bottles of water on the floor. When asked if he had any oilfield clothing, Imhoff told the trooper that his work clothing was at his house in North Dakota, according the court document.

The trooper asked Imhoff to come back to his patrol vehicle and saw that Imhoff was shaking and growing increasingly nervous.

When asked, Imhoff was unable to provide the address of the house he stayed at in North Dakota and also could not remember the zip code.

Imhoff denied the trooper’s request for permission to search the vehicle. A MHP K9 was brought in and indicated a positive alert for the presence of illegal drugs in the van, according to court documents.

At that point, the trooper seized the vehicle and had it towed to an impound lot in Columbus. A search warrant was obtained and found in the van was approximately 78 pounds of methamphetamine located in the second seat area in the under-floor storage compartments.

The meth was contained in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and wrapped in duct tape.

The meth was then transported to the DEA office in Billings and given to Agent Grayson. Imhoff was taken to the DEA office in Billings, where he requested an attorney.

CARTEL METH

For the five years, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been targeting large-scale organized networks that are bringing illegal drugs and weapons into the U.S.

Specifically, it’s the Mexican drug cartels that have been of interest. Two years ago, a Sinaloa Cartel linked trafficker was sentenced in federal court in Billings.

When Imhoff was arrested a year ago. the Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) told the News that all major Montana methamphetamine investigations conducted in recent years eventually pointed to Mexico as a source country.

DOJ also said that cartel members have been arrested in Montana, smuggling meth into the state or managing distribution points in major cities.

PROJECT SAFE NEIGHBORHOODS

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a U.S. Department of Justice initiative to reduce violent crime. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime in Montana increased by 36 percent from 2013 to 2018.

Through PSN, federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement partners in Montana focus on violent crime driven by methamphetamine trafficking, armed robbers, firearms offenses and violent offenders with outstanding warrants, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.