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A California man was sentenced to prison Thursday after a trooper found more than 8 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in a spare tire of the car he was driving near Columbus.

Manuel Paz Sanchez Jr., 32, of Sacramento, California, was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison in U.S. District Court in Billings. Judge Susan Watters also ordered Sanchez to serve five years of supervised release afterward.

Sanchez pleaded guilty in May to a single count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

A Montana Highway Patrol trooper pulled over Sanchez on Interstate 90 near Columbus in December 2017 because Sanchez was following too closely to the car in front, according to an affidavit by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

Sanchez told the trooper he was driving to North Dakota from Idaho, where he’d been visiting family, and planned to fly back to California from North Dakota, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney for Montana Kurt Alme.

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But Sanchez could not recall the name of the Idaho town he had visited, according to the complaint, and paperwork for the rental car he was driving indicated it was to be returned the previous day to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car back in California.

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Sanchez also told a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who questioned him at the traffic stop that he had just come from a visit to Yellowstone National Park, where he saw Yogi Bear, the complaint states. 

The trooper requested permission to search the car, and Sanchez granted it, according to the complaint.

Inside a spare tire in the trunk were vacuum-sealed packages containing approximately 8.3 pounds, or roughly 30,000 doses, of meth, Alme’s office said.

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