A federal jury in Billings this week convicted two Washington men of methamphetamine trafficking charges after law enforcement agents stopped their vehicle in Montana in 2012 and found more than two pounds of meth hidden inside.
The jury on Wednesday convicted Hector Magallon-Lopez, 25, of Toppenish Valley, and Cristobal Sanchez-Chavez, 36, of Union Gap, of conspiracy to distribute meth. Magallon-Lopez also was convicted of possessing meth with intent to distribute. The trial lasted three days.
Federal prosecutors said Montana’s federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents were contacted by their counterparts in St. Louis, Mo., about Washington drug traffickers running meth to St. Louis. The St. Louis DEA agents intercepted several phone calls indicating that two men would be transporting a large amount of meth from Washington to Minnesota.
On Sept. 28, 2012, Billings DEA agents, along with Missouri River Drug Task Force officers, conducted surveillance near Three Forks and identified a vehicle occupied by two men.
A traffic stop by a Montana Highway Patrol trooper found the vehicle was registered to Magallon-Lopez and that it matched a vehicle that was described on a wire, prosecutors said. A wire allows law enforcement to intercept telephone communication with court approval. Agents tracked the vehicle with signals from a cellphone number from the wire.
Magallon-Lopez told the trooper he was going to Minnesota to find work at a restaurant, prosecutors said.
Agents took the vehicle to the Sweet Grass County’s Sheriff’s Office for a search by a drug-sniffing dog. The first dog identified the odor of drugs, but the dog’s credentials had lapsed, so agents got a second dog, which also indicated the presence of drugs in the vehicle.
After obtaining a search warrant, agents found about 975 grams, or about 2.1 pounds, of meth hidden under the trunk area.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters set sentencing for Nov. 20. Both men remain in custody. The defendants face a minimum mandatory 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine.