A Cedar Rapids man sentenced last week on a federal perjury charge in connection with a drug trafficking operation appears to be just one in a string of convictions stemming from the investigation.
Large amounts of marijuana, many times concealed in a false bed of a pickup, have been coming in from Arizona to Cedar Rapids since 2001. The hauls in 2006 and possibly later, consisted of 200 or 300 pounds of marijuana at one time.
According to court documents, at least, nine men have been involved in the investigation and there have been seven convictions with the cooperation between local, state and federal agencies.
What remains unclear is if this investigation has ended with these recent convictions or whether it continues.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan declined to comment this week on the convictions and the drug conspiracy.
Scott Smith, Drug Enforcement Administration resident agent in charge in Cedar Rapids office, wasn’t available for comment Thursday.
Recent court documents regarding the convictions of Michael Cutter, 33, who was sentenced last week for making false declarations to a grand jury, and Nels Nolan Nelson, 34, who pleaded last month to conspiracy to distribute marijuana, leaves a trail that can be traced back to 2001, when the DEA investigation begins.
Cutter told a grand jury he didn’t know his friend Nelson was distributing marijuana. Cutter later pleaded to the perjury charge and will now serve eight months in prison.
Nelson, former owner of the Sound Shop, 1030 11th St. NE in Cedar Rapids, distributed marijuana from October 2008 to 2013. He faces up to five years in prison.
An affidavit in support of civil forfeitures lays out part of the investigation leading up to Nelson and Cutter’s involvement. A home that Cutter owns, 505 Prairie View Drive in Fairfax, was occupied by Nelson and may have been used in the drug operation.
That forfeiture is pending but Nelson’s home, 1740 Southview Dr. NW in Cedar Rapids, will be forfeited to the government, according to U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade’s order Nov. 18, 2013.
The government typically seeks forfeiture of property connected with drug operations. According to federal law, if the property was purchased with money from the illegal distribution of controlled substances or was used to facilitate the distribution and storage of the drugs, then it can be seized.
In the affidavit, Cedar Rapids Police officer Bryan Furman and member of the DEA Task Force tracked Nelson’s financial records to show how Lexus car payments, the Southview home and rental payments of the Sound Shop space are mostly paid in cash and income tax and bank records don’t explain his income.
Nelson moved into the Fairfax home owned by Cutter in 2009. Cutter was interviewed about the Fairfax property by authorities in 2012 and he explained he and Nelson are good friends, and he let Nelson live there rent-free because he owed Nelson $200,000. Cutter lives in another Cedar Rapids house.
After a search was conducted in 2008 of the Sound Shop, Cutter said Nelson wanted to live at the Fairfax home so people wouldn’t know where he lived. Cutter also told investigators he was aware that Nelson stored drugs and stolen property at the Fairfax residence while living there.
During a 2012 search of the Fairfax house, police found 3.4 grams of heroin, 594.9 grams of marijuana, two small blocks of cocaine and a variety of drug-related items.
According to the affidavit, Nelson had been implicated in this conspiracy long before Cutter’s involvement. Nelson’s association with convicted drug traffickers goes back to 2001. A cooperating defendant told authorities he sold Nelson about 150 pounds of marijuana and 10 ounces of cocaine between 2001 and 2002.
Nelson came up again during an investigation of Michael Knight, who was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to more than 21 years for conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to court documents.
The Knight investigation goes back to 2002 and phone records and wire transfers helped investigators piece together connections between Knight, Nelson and others involved.
In 2006, Ramon Casillas, tied the Sound Shop to the conspiracy, according to the affidavit and court documents. Casillas was stopped in Arizona by police, driving a Chevy S-10 pickup and provided his home address as Nelson’s Sound Shop. Officers found 289 pounds of marijuana inside a false bed of the pickup.
There is no further information on Casillas in the affidavit or in Iowa federal court documents.
About two years later in 2008, authorities issued a search warrant of the Sound Shop, after following Travis Dutton, who was driving a large load of marijuana in a Chevy S-10, to the shop May 15.
According to court documents regarding Dutton’s charges, a confidential informant led police to Dutton’s delivery that day. He became an informant after being stopped near Flagstaff, Ariz., May 7, 2008 driving the Chevy S-10 pickup with 22 bundles of marijuana.
He told police he was taking it to a contact, “Travis” in Cedar Rapids.
The informant told authorities Dutton recruited him back in 2006 to drive marijuana from Arizona to Cedar Rapids, according to court documents. He made about 14 trips during that time with at least, 300 pounds of marijuana each time.
After the search, Dutton said he had known Nelson for about 10 years. Dutton claimed he was just a “middle man.”
In 2011 when Dutton was charged, he admitted that prior to May 2008 he had been providing little amounts of marijuana to Nelson for a year or two – totaling 600 pounds.
Dutton was charged with possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana and sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison.