When a man and woman checked into the Lockwood Holiday Inn in January 2011, the desk clerk knew something was off.

The clerk immediately recognized the driver’s license presented by the woman for identification as belonging to a friend, whose driver’s license had been stolen earlier.

The clerk called the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office. The complaint ultimately led to officers finding pure meth in the pair’s vehicle and to drug convictions in federal court.

Fabio Noel-Rodriguez, 35, of Watsonville, Calif., pleaded guilty Thursday to possession of meth with intent to distribute. Co-defendant Michelle Steinfeldt, 33, of Billings, pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy to possess meth for distribution and is awaiting sentencing next month.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr said the desk clerk provided deputies with a copy of the stolen driver’s license used for check-in and a room registration receipt showing that the pair had a vehicle with a Florida license plate.

A deputy drove through the parking lot looking for a Florida license plate and saw a vehicle with such a plate beginning to leave, Fehr said. The deputy pulled over the vehicle, which was driven by Noel-Rodriguez, and arrested him for driving without a driver’s license. Steinfeldt was a passenger.

Officers secured the car, and a drug-sniffing dog alerted for drug odors, Fehr said. After getting a search warrant, officers found two packages containing 266 grams of pure methamphetamine, four cellphones, $3,909 in cash, a digital scale with meth residue, plastic baggies and a laptop computer. The cash, drugs and scale were found in a hidden compartment in the vehicle, she said.

Noel-Rodriguez faces a minimum mandatory 10 years to life in prison and a possible $4 million fine. Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull set sentencing for June 19. Noel-Rodriguez remains in custody.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.