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Crack dealers sentenced

December 21, 2007
Mining Journal
MARQUETTE — Two Illinois men were sentenced in Marquette’s U.S. District Court Thursday, the final defendants to receive sentences in a crack cocaine trafficking investigation that began in Menominee in 2006.

Jason Lamar Beard, 24, of Phoenix, Ill., was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, and Rex Tracaey Furlough, Jr., 23, of Dalton, Ill., was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison. Both had been indicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine; Furlough also was indicted for possessing a firearm as a felon.

Furlough’s gun sentence of 10 years will be served concurrently with the drug sentence.

Eight other defendants were sentenced on charges related to the drug ring throughout 2007.

“It’s about the biggest drug case I’ve had or seen up here in my time as a prosecutor,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maarten Vermaat, who prosecuted the case for the government.

He noted in total, the defendants had sold more than three kilograms of cocaine in the Menominee area, which would provide between 3,000 and 6,000 individual purchases, in gram and half-gram amounts.

“That’s a lot of business,” Vermaat said. The retail value of the total amount was estimated at $300,000.

In April, Joseph Alan Smith, 24, of Menominee, was sentenced to five years in prison on a crack cocaine distribution charge. In May, James Jerome Green, 30, was sentenced to 15 years and nine months on a charge of conspiracy to distribute, and Deborah Lee Green, 36, was sentenced to five years and 10 months on the same charge. Both are Menominee residents. Also in May, Robert Lee Turnbo, 22, of Highland, Ind., was sentenced to four years and six months on the same charge.

In July, Mark Allen Keller, Jr. 25, of Menominee, was sentenced to nine years for distribution of crack cocaine. In August, Brandon Benedict Smejkal, 25, of Menominee, was sentenced to three years, 10 months for possession of stolen firearms, and Vicki Lynn Walton, 40, of Marinette, Wis., was sentenced to 10 years and one month for conspiracy to distribute, and 10 years for possession of stolen firearms. Walton’s sentences will be served concurrently.

In October, Shawn Allen Klatt, 26, of Menominee, was sentenced to three years and 10 months for possessing a firearm as a felon.

The investigation leading to the charges began in the spring of 2006, when the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team, the Menominee Police Department and the Menominee County Sheriff’s Department made nine undercover purchases of crack and powder cocaine from drug dealers in Menominee. Their investigation revealed that several mid-level drug dealers from the Chicago area were supplying the Menominee dealers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Marquette.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives got involved, and police executed a search warrant at the Menominee home of James and Deborah Green on Sept. 20, 2006.

Inside the residence, Furlough and Turnbo were found sitting near a table covered in crack cocaine, scales and plastic baggies. Furlough also had about three ounces of powder cocaine and $9,000 on his person. Both were immediately arrested on federal drug charges.

In October 2006, a federal grand jury in Marquette indicted Furlough, Turnbo, the Greens, Keller and Smith on 12 counts related to the investigation. Another defendant was also named in the indictment: Sarah Elaine Erdman, 22, of Menominee. She did not plead guilty to the charges, and has since entered U.S. Probation’s pre-trial diversion program as a reflection of her lower level of involvement in the trafficking and her lack of criminal history, according to the U.S. Attorney.

Further investigation by UPSET showed that Jason Beard and Vicki Walton also were involved in the trafficking, and they subsequently were charged with federal drug offenses.

During this period, Menominee police began investigating a break-in at the Walter Brothers True Value store in Menominee, in which 19 handguns were stolen. They found that the guns were being transferred to members of the ring under investigation. Brandon Smejkal acted as the link between the thief and the drug ring, providing two guns to Furlough, and 10 to Walton, according to the U.S. Attorney.

Walton and Smejkal were then indicted on federal gun offenses, and Shawn Klatt became a subject of the investigation, having been found in possession of a firearm as a felon.

All pleaded guilty except Erdman and Beard, who went to trial Oct. 2, 2007. A jury found him guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possess.

During the trial, evidence established that the ring had been headed by Furlough, who developed a network bringing crack and powder cocaine from Chicago to the Menominee area. Furlough began using the Greens as his distributors for small amounts of the drugs in the fall of 2005.

He increased the volume, bringing about a quarter kilogram per trip, and expanded his distribution to include Walton, Turnbo, Beard and others.

Beard’s role was to supervise local distribution so Furlough could return more often to Chicago for more drugs, according to the U.S. Attorney.

The network also dealt in stolen firearms, transporting some back to Chicago. Two of the stolen guns were recovered in Menominee and Marinette, and law enforcement in the Chicago area recovered four of the guns in connection with criminal activity there.

ATF Special Agent William A. Temple said in a statement that firearm theft is a top priority for his bureau, since those guns often quickly become used in violent crimes.

He and U.S. Attorney Charles A. Gross both commended federal, state and local law enforcement on their cooperation and success in the cases in a statement.

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