Hardin man admits to marijuana conspiracy charges

2012-11-30T08:27:00Z 2013-02-07T09:13:09Z Hardin man admits to marijuana conspiracy chargesBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The last of five men with medical-marijuana cards charged in a marijuana growing and distribution operation in Hardin admitted federal charges in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Doran Leslie Hewitt II, 31, of Hardin, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises as part of a plea agreement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paulette Stewart said in court records that Hewitt was hired by co-defendant Ross T. Pattison, 49, of Hardin, to help with his tax business and with marijuana distribution. Hewitt delivered some marijuana for Pattison, she said.

The case began in March 2011 when law enforcement got a complaint that Pattison and another co-defendant, Travis Birdinground, 44, of Hardin, were distributing marijuana in Hardin and Big Horn County.

Pattison had a medical-marijuana card but was not listed as a “caregiver” because he is a convicted felon, court records said. Birdinground also had a medical-marijuana card and was a caregiver for one patient.

In a search with a warrant of Pattison’s house and two vehicles, officers seized five pounds of marijuana and about $124,000 cash and other drug-related materials. They also found photocopies of patient medical marijuana cards for caregivers and other co-defendants, Brandon Lee Strecker, 38, of Hardin, and Jason Owen Gierke, 51, of Miles City.

A subsequent search of Strecker’s house turned up 420 marijuana plants growing in his garage, house and a green house.

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull set Hewitt’s sentencing for Feb. 28 and continued his release. Hewitt faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a possible $500,000 fine. Pattison, Birdinground, Strecker and Gierke are all awaiting sentencing on similar charges.

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