Pot ring suspects enter not guilty pleas
Aspen, CO Colorado
Two local suspects in an alleged interstate marijuana ring pleaded not guilty Friday to federal charges in a Milwaukee court.
Donald Teeple, 61, of Redstone, and James Wingers, 63, of Aspen, were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, a felony, following a 2007 investigation. A conviction could net the suspects five to 40 years in federal prison.
Thomas Blank, 68, of Carbondale, also was implicated in the indictment and will appear in a Wisconsin court on Monday. He has yet to be charged.
None of the three men, who were arrested last month, is currently in custody.
Friday’s pleas came after federal investigators used GPS-tracking technology to trace the vehicle of two Wisconsin men to Colorado and alleged drug transactions with Peter Israel of Telluride.
Court documents accuse the suspects of passing more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana from Fernando Contreras-Magellanas of Tucson, Ariz., through stash houses in the Crystal River Valley near Redstone, south of Carbondale, as well as a stop in Silt, before transporting the marijuana to Wisconsin.
Contreras-Magellanas is still a fugitive, according to court officials. His cousin, Daniel Cocoa-Vega of Arizona, also pleaded not guilty to the same charge Friday. Cocoa-Vega is in custody pending his posting a $25,000 cash or property bond, court officials said.
Cocoa-Vega, Teeple and Wingers are scheduled to stand jury trial March 31. The trial is scheduled to last one week.
The attorney for Wingers, Stephen Komie of Chicago, said the charges against his client are a “historical claim,” and that Wingers was not at all involved in any of the drug trafficking listed in the federal affidavit.
“There’s no hard evidence of an event,” Komie said. “The case relies on the testimony of a canary.”
And the canary is likely Blank, Komie stressed.
“One can draw certain conclusions from reading the complaint,” Komie said, adding that while Blank is named throughout the affidavit, he is not being charged with anything.
Komie said he suspects that Blank informed on unrelated people such as Wingers in order to avoid a lengthy prison term.
“[Wingers] worked all his life to have a piece of Aspen,” Komie said. “He is an ordinary working American guy.”
The recent indictment was “quite a shock” and “devastating” to Wingers, Komie said.
“He’s the least culpable,” Komie said.
Asked if the case would go to a plea bargain, Komie said the case could “settle any time.”
Komie awaits the disclosure package from the state before he crafts a defense, likely employing Wingers’ travel records to prove an alibi.
No motions have been filed in the case, and a one-week jury trial is scheduled in Wisconsin court on March 31.
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