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James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

James F. Battin Federal Courthouse

A carpenter who said he built a cabin for convicted Fishtail drug dealer Merrill Clark Gardner and got paid with meth admitted federal trafficking charges on Thursday in Billings.

David Scott Duerr, 45, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess meth for distribution as part of plea deal to have other charges dismissed at sentencing.

Duerr told the judge he was a neighbor of Gardner’s and worked on building Gardner’s cabin. In return, Gardner gave him meth, which he used and sold to make money, he said.

Gardner, 62, is serving more than 15 years in federal prison for his conviction on trafficking charges. Prosecutors said Gardner ran a large drug ring that involved about 178 pounds of meth, which he got from a supplier in Arizona and redistributed to others locally.

Duerr is among eight people charged or convicted so far in the conspiracy, which ran from about January 2012 until June 2015.

While Duerr said he disagreed with much of the prosecution’s evidence, he admitted to conspiring to distribute more than 50 grams, which is 1.75 ounces.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin Rubich said an investigation by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration identified Gardner as distributing large amount of meth.

While executing a search warrant on Gardner’s Fishtail property, investigators found a large quantity of meth, Rubich said. Duerr also was waiting at the residence, had a meth pipe and confessed to using meth, Rubich said.

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After his conviction, Gardner told agents he distributed six pounds of meth to Duerr over the last three years and that Duerr redistributed the drug, Rubich said.

On the day of the search, Gardner admitted that the one and a quarter pounds of meth found in his vehicle was a delivery intended for Duerr, the prosecutor said.

In addition, a co-defendant, Rinda Morgan of Helena, who also was convicted of distributing for Gardner, admitted that Duerr came to her after Gardner’s arrest and told her he needed money, Rubich said. Morgan gave Duerr an ounce of meth for redistribution to help him make money, he said.

Duerr faces a minimum mandatory five to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Cavan said he would recommend that U.S. District Judge Susan Watters accept Duerr’s plea. Watters will sentence Duerr at a date to be determined. Duerr remains in custody.

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Federal Court, Yellowtone County Reporter

Federal court and county reporter for The Billings Gazette.