HELENA – Nathan Eli Johnson, a 34-year-old resident of Saint Paul Minnesota, entered a plea of guilty today to possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. U.S. Senior District Judge Sam Haddon presided over the hearing.
On Saturday November 12, 2016, a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) deputy made a traffic stop on Johnson’s Chevy Tahoe while traveling eastbound on Interstate I-90.
The deputy had seen two vehicles traveling 95 miles per hour in an 80 mile per hour zone. The deputy was able to make a traffic stop on the Tahoe. The Tahoe was operated by Nathan Eli Johnson who held a suspended/revoked driver’s license out of Minnesota. Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) arrived to assist with the stop.
During the contact with Johnson, MHP troopers could smell marijuana. Johnson told MHP that he had an eighth ounce of marijuana in his possession. Johnson gave MHP permission to search the Tahoe.
When a trooper asked Johnson how much marijuana he would find, Johnson said, “I’m (expletive).” When the trooper again asked how much, Johnson said “a lot.” The trooper again confirmed consent to search and Johnson agreed.
During the search officers located 16 large duffel bags containing suspected marijuana. Each bag contained multiple pounds of marijuana.
As a result of what was learned, JCSO requested assistance from the Southwest Montana Drug Task Force (SWMDTF) who helped to obtain a search warrant regarding additional items of contraband believed to be located in the Tahoe.
Johnson stated that he had manufactured, processed, and transported approximately 388 pounds (approximately 175 kilograms) of marijuana which was located in the Tahoe.
Johnson also stated he had been involved in the distribution, possession and manufacture of large amounts of marijuana for approximately six years.
He stated he oversees the production and harvest of the marijuana in Oregon and transports and distributes the marijuana to multiple dealers in the St. Paul Minnesota area.
Johnson stated during the six years he was operating as a large scale marijuana dealer, he produced approximately 1,420 pounds of useable marijuana which he has sold for an approximate total of $1,704,000.
This estimation appeared to investigators to be at the low end of the spectrum, based upon the average street price of high grade marijuana in the St. Paul Minnesota area. Johnson further stated that upon returning to the St. Paul area, he had a group of 40 to 50 individuals he would contact for the purpose of distributing the marijuana.
Johnson’s sentencing hearing has been set for August 29, 2018 in Helena.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan R. Whittaker and investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Montana Highway Patrol, and the South West Montana Drug Task Force.