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14 sentenced in $5.7M meth ring

in Sirens

By Shereen Siewert

MADISON – Fourteen people, including five from Wausau and five from Merrill, have so far been sentenced in a $5.7 million methamphetamine conspiracy that involved bringing pounds of the drug to central Wisconsin each week for years, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

The announcement came this week, ending the three-year investigation into the trafficking operation. Police say the drug ring operated from June 2013 to May 2016, when pure methamphetamine, also known as ice or crystal meth, was brought into Wisconsin from Minnesota and sold throughout central Wisconsin. In all, more than 127 pounds of the drugs were distributed by members of the conspiracy, according to the release.

The 19 defendants charged included Joe Kujawa, the source of supply in Minneapolis, and David Vance-Bryan and Mike Kjonaas, Kujawa’s drivers who transported the methamphetamine from Minnesota to Wisconsin. Also charged were Kyle Quintana, Anthony Rogers, Jacob Loose, Paul Rasmussen and Patrick Keenan —

Kujawa’s main wholesalers in Wisconsin. Their customers, who were second-level distributors, were also charged — Karen Zais, Andy Nelson, Jaimie Pankow, Chris Schmeltzer, Matt Drake, Ryan Thomas, and Jonas Ellwart. Street-level distributors were also charged — Danny Graap, Josh Graap and Christina Abbott.

The following chart summarizes the key court dates and the sentences imposed in this investigation so far:

NAME

AGE

ADDRESS

INDICTMENT DATE

PLEA DATE

SENTENCING DATE

SENTENCE IMPOSED

1. Andy Nelson

32

Merrill

3-9-16

9-14-16

12-7-16

4.5 years

2. Karen Zais

49

Merrill

3-9-16

9-14-16

11-29-16

6 years

3. Anthony Rogers

24

Athens

3-30-16

8-23-16

3-7-17

13.5 years

4. Joe Kujawa

37

Oakdale, Minn.

5-11-16

11-16-16

3-3-17

18 years

5. Kyle Quintana

24

Wausau

5-11-16

11-15-16

3-6-17

13 years

6. Jacob Loose

25

Wausau

5-11-16

10-28-16

1-9-17

15 years

7. Pat Keenan

30

Wausau

5-11-16

11-29-16

3-8-17

15 years

8. Jamie Pankow

33

Wausau

5-11-16

11-3-16

2-10-17

7 years

9. Paul Rasmussen

35

Osseo

6-1-16

10-28-16

1-10-17

15 years

10. Chris Schmeltzer

46

Merrill

6-1-16

10-27-16

2-9-17

6 years

11. David Brandenburg

26

Merrill

7-13-16

12-1-16

2-24-17

9 years

12. Matt Drake

26

Merrill

7-13-16

11-22-16

2-8-17

12 years

13. Ryan Thomas

24

Wausau

8-3-16

11-10-16

2-9-17

12.5 years

14. Jonas Ellwart

24

Wausau

8-3-16

1-25-17

4-12-17

15. Danny Graap

50

Merrill

8-24-16

2-3-17

4-24-17

16. Josh Graap

32

Merrill

8-24-16

1-31-17

4-12-17

17. Christina Abbott

34

Merrill

8-24-16

2-21-17

5-10-17

18. David Vance-Bryan

30

St. Paul, Minn.

9-14-16

11-17-16

2-16-17

11.5 years

19. Mike Kjonaas

41

St. Paul

9-14-16

2-10-16

4-27-17

This was the second federal felony drug conviction for methamphetamine distribution for Joe Kujawa, Paul Rasmussen, and Chris Schmeltzer, court records show.

All 19 defendants pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and were sentenced before U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson in Madison. At the respective sentencing hearings, Judge Peterson repeated some common themes.

First, even though all of the defendants were drug addicts, Judge Peterson noted that their addictions did not “alleviate them from responsibility” for their crimes. The Judge explained that methamphetamine addiction did not take away their ability to

choose to become drug dealers, and they all chose to become high-level wholesalers and dealers of large amounts of methamphetamine for profit.

Second, Judge Peterson stressed that the sentences were designed, in part, to send a message to the communities impacted by this crime. Judge Peterson explicitly stated that these defendants “did a horrible thing” and “inflicted serious damage” on these communities; that it was “nothing short of a plague that took advantage of people who were addicts;” and that these defendants “took advantage of other people’s diseases” to make a profit. Judge Peterson said that his sentences were intended to reflect “the sense of outrage and condemnation” for the harm caused to the affected communities.

In sentencing Jacob Loose on January 9, Judge Peterson commented that Loose was a “dangerous person who is capable of violence and I don’t see this getting better.” The Judge added, “This is a crime with a very, very dangerous drug. You are a different category of offender. You dealt vast quantities that were spread over a large part of Wisconsin. You played a significant role in a big deal drug conspiracy.”

In sentencing Chris Schmeltzer on February 9, Judge Peterson told Schmeltzer he needed to impose the 72-month sentence because, “I have to protect the public and provide adequate punishment. You are not evil, but I want everyone to know the court takes this crime seriously and it will punish everyone involved. The community should know you did not get the mandatory minimum. You are a repeat offender and you did this while you were on supervision.”

In sentencing Joe Kujawa on March 3, Judge Peterson told Kujawa he was responsible for distributing over 58 kilograms of methamphetamine, which translated to 2.3 million individual doses. The judge noted there were only 166,000 people living in Lincoln and Marathon counties combined, and that Kujawa’s actions had an enormous impact because of his marketing plan in those communities. The judge found that Kujawa took “the meth market to a new level in Lincoln County and Merrill.”

In sentencing Anthony Rogers on March 7, Judge Peterson stated that Rogers “stepped up to the big leagues in drug dealing,” and that Rogers “made a difference by flooding the meth market with cheap meth.” The judge also told Rogers “you were good at it and you had a big impact on others.”

Finally, in sentencing Patrick Keenan on March 8, Judge Peterson told Keenan that Keenan’s “code of silence” by not “snitching” on his co-defendants, and by having them listen to the song “Duck Tape” was part of a “perverted and destructive ideology.” The judge noted that such conduct allows criminal acts to continue and “the idea this is somehow honorable is incorrect.” Judge Peterson also explained to Keenan that Keenan was not there because of the prosecutor, or the police, or the pharmaceutical industry, but because of what Keenan did.

The judge said, “You stepped up and embraced the role of being a drug dealer. You are being punished because of that. You made addicts worse in your community. You degraded that community by flooding the market with cheap meth.”

The charges against these defendants are the result of an investigation conducted by the Wausau office of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation; the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office; the Wausau office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, Special Investigations Unit; the Wausau Police Department; and IRS Criminal Investigation. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Graber.

 

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