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A 21-year-old Hardin man who was sentenced on Thursday to four years in federal prison for trafficking meth apologized to his family and the community.

Cody Michael Beard, 21, also advised a group of Hardin High School students who were in the courtroom to stay away from meth.

"That drug is a very terrible drug," said Beard, who got hooked after smoking it once.

About nine junior and senior Hardin High students attended the sentencing as part of a class about the criminal justice system. Teacher Cindy Farmer said students attend federal and state court proceedings and visit the Montana Women's Prison and the Yellowstone County jail.

"I made some stupid, wrong choices," Beard said. "It was a rough life, a stressful life."

Facing a minimum mandatory 10 years to life in prison was a shock, he said.

Beard qualified for a shorter sentence under so-called safety valve provisions and for other reasons, which were discussed in a confidential meeting with the parties and Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull. The safety valve qualifications include not being a leader in the crime and not being involved in violence.

Beard pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to distribute meth in Hardin and on the Crow Reservation in 2009 and 2010. He told investigators that at one point, he was selling an 8-ball, or one-eighth of an ounce, of meth every day for about six months.

Prosecutors said Beard's drug dealing became known to the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs through interviews with about 40 people. 

Contact Clair Johnson at cjohnson@billingsgazette.com or 657-1282.

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