January 30, 2015

Former Forest City postmaster admits to stealing medication from the mail

Post-Office-box-003A former north Iowa postal worker has admitted to stealing prescription medication from the mail. Fifty-five-year-old Danny Miller of Ventura admitted that while serving as the postmaster for Forest City between May of 2013 and July of 2014 he opened mail from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs addressed to a Forest City veteran.

Miller admitted stealing the pain medication oxycodone from the packages. Miller is free on bond awaiting his sentencing. He will face a maximum of five years in prison and $250,000 fine.

Final 3 sentenced in multi-state marijuana trafficking ring

gavel-thumbnailThree men are headed to federal prison for their roles in a marijuana trafficking organization. Thirty-six-year-old Jesse Tolen, 38-year-old Shannon Ehlts and 29-year-old Corey Marx all pled guilty to conspiracy to distributing marijuana for the effort to bring high-priced marijuana form Colorado and California into Iowa.

Tolen also pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Ehlts was sentenced to nine months in prison and Marx to eight months in prison and two months of home detention.

They are the last of 12 people to be sentence for their role in the marijuana trafficking ring that was uncovered through a DEA investigation that involved wiretaps and multiple cell phones.

Tolen is from Castella, California, Ehlts is from Lowden and Marx is from Cedar Rapids.

Davenport man in medical marijuana debate dies

Medical-marijuanaThe family of a Davenport-area man who was at the center of Iowa’s medical marijuana debate is now mourning his death. Forty-nine year-old Benton Mackenzie died Monday of cancer at his parents’ Long Grove home. Mackenzie made national news when he fought Scott County in court over his efforts to grow marijuana for his use as a medicine.

Jurors were not allowed to hear any testimony about his health and convicted him and his wife and son of manufacturing marijuana. Mackenzie and his wife were sentenced to three years of probation. Their son received a suspended sentence.

The family is appealing the convictions. Before his illness, Mackenzie was known for putting on a Scottish kilt and playing bagpipes to honor firefighters and veterans on various occasions, including September 11th.

(Reporting by Phil Roberts, Davenport)


Royal woman charged with posing as nurse to get prescription drugs

A northwest Iowa woman faces a ten-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to illegally obtaining prescription drugs. In December of 2013, Storm Lake police arrested 30-year-old Kayleen Leedahl of Royal with over 50 charges in connection with allegations of possessing and attempting to sell illegal drugs.

Police allege Leedahl obtained 18 different prescriptions through fraud at the Storm Lake Wal-Mart Pharmacy. Police allege Leedahl posed as a nurse from various medical practices, and using doctor’s information called in fraudulent prescriptions. She then picked up the ordered prescriptions, and police further allege that she obtained the drugs with the intent to deliver or sell them on the street. Leedahl pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to three counts of felony obtaining or attempting to obtain a prescription drug by deceit.

The agreement calls for ten years in prison when she’s sentenced on March 30th.

(Reporting by Joel Hermann, KAYL, Storm Lake)


Meth trafficking lands Cedar Rapids man 35 years in federal prison

A Cedar Rapids man who pled guilty in conspiracy to make and distribute methamphetamine will spend 35 years in federal prison. Investigators say 28-year-old Jacob William Brisbin led a drug trafficking organization that made meth daily. He personally made over three pounds of meth and had a network of individuals who distributed the drug on his behalf.

They say he also distributed “Ice” meth to various customers and kept several firearms as part of his business. On top of that, court records show Brisbin tried to obstruct justice while in the Linn County Jail by influencing the testimony of government witnesses. He was sentenced to 420 months in federal prison where there is not parole.


Four more sentenced in eastern Iowa marijuana distribution operation


Marijuana. (file photo)

Four people involved in bringing high quality marijuana from Colorado and California into eastern Iowa have been sentenced to prison. The four were arrested following an investigation by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency that used wiretaps and cellphones. All four pled guilty to conspiracy to distributing marijuana.

Fifty-three-year-old James Allen of Belton Missouri was sentenced to six months in prison and three months home detention. Thirty-nine-year-old Cory Kintzel was sentenced to one year in prison, while 39-year-old Mathew Fritz of Cedar Rapids was given five years probation and fined three-thousand dollars. Mark Swanson, a 55-year-old pilot from Brekenridge, Colorado, was sentenced to 24th months in prison and fined 10-thousand dollars.

Agents say Swanson grew most of the pot and then used his plane to fly it from Colorado to Iowa. The government also seized the plane. The marijuana was sold for $3,400 or more for a pound. Swanson admitted to making at least $35,000 for himself from the operation.

Five other people were already sentenced in the case: Nels Nelson, 34, from Cedar Rapids, was sentenced on April 21, 2014 to 41 months; Chad Straub, 40, from Salinas, California, was sentenced on May 29, 2014 to 13 months’ and one day; Robert Leonard, 55, from Oak Run, California, was sentenced on September 25, 2014 to 46 months; Brenda Leonard, 51, from Oak Run, California, was sentenced on September 25, 2014 to two years’ probation; Tyler Scheer, 26, from Cedar Rapids, was sentenced on December 22, 2014 to nine months in prison and fined $3,000.

Three participants in the conspiracy still await sentencing: Jesse Tolen, 36, from Castella, California, is scheduled to be sentenced on January 15after pleading guilty on July 1, 2014 to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Corey Marx, 29, from Cedar Rapids, is scheduled to be sentenced on January 15th after he pled guilty on September 16, 2014 to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Shannon Ehlts, 38, from Lowden awaits sentencing on his August 18, 2014 guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute marijuana. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

Cannabis oil debate may resume in 2015 legislature


Maria La France & Sally Gaer are parents who want lawmakers to make it easier to get cannabis oil to treat their children. (L-R)

Three key state policymakers have varying opinions about whether to change the Iowa law that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil as treatment for chronic epilepsy.

The parents of children who suffer from multiple seizures say it’s impossible to get the marijuana derivative and they’re asking lawmakers to allow the production and sale of cannabis oil in Iowa. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, does not anticipate legislators will take that kind of action to expand last year’s bill.

“The objective of that bill was not to take parents and families that are in this situation and somehow they end up in prison for trying to take care of their family,” Paulsen says. “…That’s what it was intended to, to decriminalize possession.”

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says the pleas of those parents will get a hearing.

“It’s decriminalized, but impossible for people to access the non-intoxicating oil,” Gronstal says, “I don’t think that does much in terms of solving the problem, so if we could find a way to do some tweaks to this legislation, I’m certainly open to that.”

And Governor Terry Branstad isn’t necessarily closing the door either, but he’s not embracing changes in the law.

“I think we also need to be concerned about unintended consequences,” Branstad says. “That’s what both the medical community and law enforcement last year and I think that’s why the legislature came down where it did.”

Branstad says Iowa policymakers should review similar laws that were passed last year in Utah and Alabama, plus he suggests Iowans soon may be able to legally obtain cannabis oil in Illinois. The State of Illinois has legalized the production, sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes, but while that law took effect more than a year ago, Illinois has yet to award dispensing licenses and none of the more than 600 patients in Illinois who have permission to get the drug have gotten it.

The parents of children with chronic epilepsy in Iowa say no other state where cannabis oil is currently sold will allow out-of-staters to buy it, plus they’d be in danger of arrest as they transport it back to Iowa through states where it is illegal.

Branstad, Gronstal and Paulsen made their comments during The Associated Press Legislative Forum yesterday at the statehouse.