Convicted Billings drug dealer Larry John Dauenhauer gave a brief, emotional appeal before sentencing Wednesday, telling a federal judge that he was innocent.
Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom was unmoved and sentenced Dauenhauer, 66, to life in prison for possessing methamphetamine for distribution.
“This was a large, large drug distribution system that you had set up,” Shanstrom told Dauenhauer.
Dauenhauer, the judge said, supplied at least eight people for several years, arranged appointments at 15-minute intervals so customers wouldn’t run into each other at his house and had a loaded 12-gauge short-barrel, pistol-grip shotgun for protection. Shanstrom held Dauenhauer responsible for at least 15 kilos, or 33 pounds, of meth.
“It was a large, huge, huge operation and a tremendous amount of methamphetamine distributed on the streets of Billings,” Shanstrom said.
The amount of meth combined with sentencing enhancements for the shotgun and for being a principal in the scheme put Dauenhauer’s offense level at 44, which was off the chart for calculating a guideline range. The highest offense level is 43, which calls for a life term.
Defense attorney Rob Stephens recommended a range of 10 to 12 years. He said Dauenhauer had no criminal record and submitted letters of support from family and friends.
“He is a decent man. A life sentence is like killing a mosquito with a shotgun,” Stephens said.
“Love you guys,” Dauenhauer called to family members as U.S. Marshals Service deputies led him from the courtroom.
Dauenhauer’s sentencing comes five months after a jury convicted him of possession but acquitted him on a conspiracy charge and of possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
Dauenhauer told jurors that he shared small amounts of meth with people but denied having large quantities for distribution. Drug dealers who testified that he supplied them with meth were liars, he said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Seykora said testimony from Linda Selph, Jason Mills and David Sims, all convicted dealers, showed Dauenhauer supplied them with more than 39 pounds of meth from 2006 until his 2011 indictment, he said.
Stephens and Seykora argued over the enhancements.
Stephens said it was inappropriate to hold Dauenhauer responsible for a gun when the jury acquitted him of the gun charge and that Dauenhauer wasn’t a leader or organizer because customers are not under the control of dealers.
Dauenhauer used the modified shotgun for sport shooting, not for drug protection, and had it on a couch because he was going to clean it after a trip, Stephens said.
The judge and prosecutor, both sportsmen, questioned use of a modified shotgun for hunting. Unless a hunter was attacked by a white-tail deer in a blind, there was no reason to have such a firearm, Seykora said.
Stephens said people use them for sport shooting, adding, “I have one, judge.”
In addition to the life sentence, Shanstrom ordered the forfeiture of Dauenhauer’s residence, at 1203 Lynn Ave. The judge said he would decide later how to dispose of $23,000 cash and four firearms taken from Dauenhauer. He recommended that Dauenhauer be placed in a medical prison.
Stephens said he will appeal the case.