A federal jury Wednesday convicted a Canadian of drug charges in one of the largest Ecstasy busts in Montana.
A traffic stop last Feb. 9 on Interstate 94 near Glendive yielded 223,810 Ecstasy tablets weighing 141 pounds.
A federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent estimated the street value in Montana at about $25 a pill, or $5.5 million.
The panel deliberated almost four hours over two days before finding Timothy M. Morneau, 32, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, guilty of conspiring to possess Ecstasy for distribution and possession with intent to distribute.
Key witnesses against Morneau were his two co-defendants, who pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy counts In return for their cooperation, Alan James Mulder, 20, and Christian D. Laurin, 20, also of Winnipeg, are expected to receive shorter sentences.
Morneau did not take the stand. Defense attorney David Duke called no witnesses.
Ecstasy is a stimulant and hallucinogen manufactured in clandestine labs in Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium, said Dan Dunlap, a DEA agent. Most shipments, he said, are headed for the West Coast, where the pills are used primarily by the "25-and-under crowd" at techno parties, where there is high-tech music and light shows, and on college campuses. Ecstasy is not widely consumed in Montana, he said.
The Ecstasy shipment might have reached California were it not for a burned-out headlight on Mulder's car, which was used to transport the drugs. Mulder testified that he knew the headlight was out before they left Winnipeg and considered fixing it in Minot, N.D., after crossing the border. But he didn't, he said, because Morneau said they were in a hurry.
A Montana Highway Patrol trooper stationed at Glendive saw the car westbound on Interstate 94 and pulled it over because of the headlight. Trooper Glenn Quinnell testified he was going to write a warning but grew suspicous as he talked to Laurin, the driver, and Mulder, a passenger in the back seat, because they gave conflicting stories and appeared nervous. Morneau was asleep in the front passenger seat during the first part of the stop.
Mulder eventually gave law enforcement consent to search his car, and officers found three large duffle bags in the back of the Volkswagen Golf. Officers obtained a search warrant and found the bags contained Ecstasy tablets in numerous heat-sealed packages.
Mulder testified he and Laurin were roommates and that another roommate asked if they would help transport drugs. They agreed because they wanted to make some money and they left the same day with Morneau, who was introduced to them by the roommate. Mulder said he learned they were headed to California and testified he has no idea how far that was from Winnipeg.
Laurin testified he didn't learn they were headed for California until after they got arrested.
"He (Morneau) never told us how much money we were going to make," Mulder said.
Mulder and Laurin loaded the duffle bags into the car. Mulder said he didn't think the bags contained marijuana because they were too heavy. He learned on the trip they were transporting Ecstasy. Morneau gave the directions and paid for expenses until his cash ran out. Mulder then charged expenses on his credit card and kept the receipts for reimbursement, he said.
At some point, Mulder returned to Winnipeg to get more identification for the border crossing, he said. Mulder and Laurin crossed the border near Deloraine, Manitoba, with no problems and met up with Morneau in Bottineau, N.D. Morneau had smuggled the drugs across the border using a snowmobile they had stolen, he said. They communicated with text messages on their cell phones.
The three didn't discuss what story they would tell if they got caught, Mulder said.
When Mulder told Morneau he had consented to a search of his car, he said Morneau responded, "Oh, shit. I'm going to jail."
Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull set Morneau's sentencing for April 16. He remains in custody. Morneau faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine on each count.
Mulder and Laurin are to be sentenced April 8.