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Thomas Edmond Van Haele, an elderly Hysham resident with a felony record of sex and drug offenses, admitted federal drug charges Thursday in U.S. District Court in Billings.

Van Haele, 72, pleaded guilty to a superseding information charging him with two counts of distributing methamphetamine for twice selling meth to an undercover agent in Billings in June 2012.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean said the sales occurred in the parking lot of Lee’s Saloon, 530 S. 27th St. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration had been investigating meth dealing by Van Haele in the Billings area since May 2012, he said.

Van Haele’s wife, Karen, 71, a co-defendant, pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor charge of simple possession for having meth in Billings. U.S. District Judge Susan Watters immediately sentenced her to two years of probation and fined her $1,000. Karen Van Haele originally was indicted on three felony drug charges.

Thomas Van Haele’s plea deal calls for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the defense to recommend a five-year sentence on each count, to run concurrently. The maximum penalty for distribution is 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

If the judge accepts the agreement, Van Haele cannot withdraw his guilty plea. If the judge rejects the deal, Van Haele can withdraw his plea and go to trial.

Watters set sentencing for Oct. 9. Van Haele remains in custody.

Van Haele originally was indicted on four counts, including conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute and two distribution charges.

In addition, the government will seek to dismiss a notice of its intent to seek increased punishment for Van Haele because of his prior felony record for a 1982 conviction in Yellowstone County for criminal possession with intent to sell drugs.

He was sentenced on that conviction to 15 years at Montana State Prison.

Van Haele also is a registered Level 3 sex offender with the Montana Department of Justice. A Level 3 offender is considered a high risk to re-offend. He was sentenced in 1992 for two sex offenses involving a girl in Custer County, state records said.

Van Haele also told Watters he was convicted of aggravated assault in 1981 in Yellowstone County.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.