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'Dealer-dealer' gets two-year sentence in December drug bust

Jul 3, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Calling him a dealer supplying narcotics to others, a judge in Lander sentenced a Riverton man to between two and four years in prison as part of a massive drug bust that happened in December.

Lander's 9th District Judge Norman E. Young compared a "user-dealer" who obtains drugs primarily to fuel a self-habit to a "dealer-dealer" who mainly provides drugs to others during Mario Legarda's sentencing.

"This was a dealer-dealer," Young said Thursday, adding that it was the "deciding factor for me" in determining whether to sentence Legarda to prison or probation.

Following terms of a plea agreement in the case, Young recommended Legarda serve at the Wyoming Department of Correction's boot camp program. If Legarda successfully completes the program, Young said he would suspend the remainder of the sentence.

The sentence was among the latest in the ongoing massive drug investigation working under the banner of "Operation Angry Sun" that led to 35 indictments and a sweep of arrests Dec. 2 involving more than 70 law enforcement offices.

Legarda previously pleaded guilty to felony delivery of cocaine under a plea agreement filed Feb. 14 that resulted in dismissal of an identical charge and one count of conspiracy to deliver cocaine.

During the sentencing hearing, deputy county attorney Patrick LeBrun said the conviction resulted from a controlled buy monitored by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation involving a confidential informant.

"What is significant about that deal was at least -- at least -- three people were involved in it," LeBrun said about the July 30, 2010, purchase of 1 ounce of cocaine.

"I do know he did bring 1 ounce -- 28 grams -- of cocaine and sold it for $1,800," he said. "That's the kind of quantity where a person is trying to make a profit."

LeBrun expressed concern about the amount of cocaine involved in the transaction.

"What's, I think, even more alarming ... is he would have access to that (quantity)," he said.

"You've got to know somebody. You've got to have somebody develop trust in you," LeBrun said, noting that another defendant in the drug bust called Legarda to arrange an ounce for the confidential informant.

"For example, how did Betsy Walter known that Mario Legarda could produce an ounce of cocaine unless there is some involvement there?" LeBrun asked.

LeBrun asked the judge for the boot camp recommendation.

"He's somebody that deserves an opportunity at having a shot at avoiding a pretty lengthy incarceration and put on the straight and narrow," he said.

Legarda's defense attorney, Bill Miller, of Riverton, wanted probation for his client, telling the judge that other defendants in the drug bust received probation.

"There needs to be consistency in the crimes of a similar nature," Miller said.

Walter, for instance, received probation in her case, he said.

"This is the only criminal history that Mr. Legarda has that would arise to a felony level," he added.

Legarda has been attending intensive outpatient treatment for substance abuse following his arrest.

"Mr. Legarda is taking positive steps for dealing with the drug past he's had," Miller said.

Miller tried to downplay the quantity's level of significance.

"One ounce, it's not a major quantity in the drug delivery world. It's a felony level, but it's certainly not an indication of a major dealer," he said.

"The presentence investigation report certainly indicates that Mr. Legarda had a problem with use and not enterprise; however, he has been able to maintain his sobriety for a year and a half," Miller said.

Other defendants

Two other defendants in the drug bust also had their sentencing hearings Thursday.

Katrina Ann Willis received a suspended prison sentence of between two and four years. Young placed her on three years of supervised probation.

Willis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to delivery of prescription drugs Flexeril and Lortab under a plea agreement that led to dismissal of two cocaine-related charges.

The 23-year-old plans to return to Phoenix where her three children, ages 2, 3 and 5, as well as her mother reside. Willis is making "good, affirmative steps to get her like back together in Arizona," defense attorney Kent Brown said.

Young sentenced Melissa Christopherson, of Riverton, to three years of supervised probation after suspending a prison sentence of between 30 and 60 months.

Christopherson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver cocaine under a deal that led to the dismissal of two conspiracy charges involving marijuana and methamphetamine.

"I think Ms. Christopherson , she's definitely a user-type dealer; she hustled," LeBrun said, describing her drug activity as "getting some so she could get some."

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