California Man Sentenced to 20 Years for Drug Trafficking in Wyoming
A California man will be in his mid-70s after 20 years of imprisonment for trafficking 60 pounds, $250,000 worth, of illegal drugs on Interstate 80 last year, a federal judge in Casper ruled Wednesday.
Arnold Butler, 54, heard the sentence, including 10 years of probation after release from custody, handed down by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl at the end of a two-hour hearing at the Ewing T. Kerr Federal Building.
In January, a jury found him guilty of intent to distribute large quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and conspiracy to distribute them.
During the sentencing hearing, Wyoming U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen briefly outlined the history of the case, starting May 15, 2019, when a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper patrolling I-80 east of Cheyenne pulled over a flatbed tow truck with a dusty salvage car strapped on the back.
The trooper observed the truck did not have a U.S. Department of Transportation identification, and spoke to Butler who gave inconsistent answers.
Court testimony and documents said the trooper had Butler drive the tow truck to a nearby port of entry, and found that Butler had a previous conviction for transporting drugs. A K9 alerted to the presence of controlled substances and the discovery of a compartment containing the drugs. This investigation coincided with the investigation of a drug-trafficking organization in California, Klaassen said later in a news release.
"It may be the largest single amount ever interdicted on a Wyoming highway," Klaassen told Skavdahl.
"He'd been caught doing the same thing in 1998," he added.
The late federal Judge Clarence Brimmer sentenced Butler to 21 years 10 months imprisonment for trafficking cocaine in Wyoming, Klaassen said, adding Butler had escaped from custody and was on probation when arrested last year.
Klaassen urged Skavdahl to follow the federal sentencing guidelines -- a combination of the seriousness of the offense and previous criminal history -- and sentence him to 21 years 10 months in part as a deterrent to others who might think about trafficking large amounts of illegal drugs.
But defense attorney Keith Nachbar asked Skavdahl for a 15-year sentence, saying Butler will be nearly 70 when released and, if he survives prison, will not be a threat to society.
Nachbar also had an old friend of Butler appear by videoconference who worked with a Sacramento organization called Advance Peace, which advocates for reduced gun violence and helps young people considering a life of crime.
Butler was involved with Advance Peace, and the friend said Butler was a good mediator, was a mentor for young people, and that he would not have been allowed to work with the organization if he was affiliated with a gang.
Nachbar said a 15-year sentence would, in effect, be a life sentence. Another six years and 10 months would not make any difference for Butler's punishment, nor do anything as a deterrent, he said. "I'm asking the court to exercise discretion."
Butler spoke, too, saying that he has high blood pressure and is a borderline diabetic, and family members died young because of the disease.
"Twenty years is probably a life sentence for me," he said. "It's harsh that the government is pushing for it."
Butler added that his son was shot to death and his daughter hung herself during the trial in January.
Skavdahl sympathized with Butler, saying he could not fathom the pain he's endured.
But Butler wasn't out of prison for two years before becoming involved in drug trafficking again and that conduct warranted a higher sentence, the judge said before handing down the sentence, Skavdahl said.
"Mr. Butler, I hope 20 years is sufficient," he said.
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