A federal court jury on Friday found a California tow truck driver guilty of hauling $250,000 worth of drugs as a courier for a major dealer.
At the end of the five-day trial, the jury deliberated for about five hours before it convicted Arnold Devonne Butler guilty on five counts:
- Possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine.
- Possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin.
- Possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.
- Possession with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl.
- Conspiracy to distribute all the above drugs.
The superseding indictment added that Butler had been previously convicted of a serious drug felony.
Each count is punishable by 15 years to life imprisonment, with the exception of the cocaine charge, which is punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ordered a pre-sentence investigation and will set a sentencing date later.
The case started on May 14, 2019, when a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper patrolling Interstate 80 east of Cheyenne pulled over a flatbed tow truck with a dusty salvage car strapped on the back, according to testimony during the trial that Wyoming U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen summarized during his closing argument on Friday.
The trooper observed the truck did not have a U.S. Department of Transportation identification, and spoke to Butler who gave inconsistent answers and did not seem to understand commercial truck regulations.
Butler said he had loaded the car, and the request of someone named “Gordo,” near Sacramento and was taking it to Nebraska, but didn’t know the destination.
The trooper had Butler drive the tow truck to a nearby port of entry, recorded what he recalled because his body camera wasn’t working, and found that Butler had a previous conviction for transporting drugs.
Other suspicions led to a K9 alerting to the presence of controlled substances and the discovery of a secret compartment containing 46 pounds of methamphetamine, and multiple-pound quantities of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, Klaassen said.
Evidence presented during the trial showed Butler was a longtime associate of a major drug dealer — Armando Tabarez, who is now under indictment for drug trafficking, Klaassen said.
Other evidence included phone and text messages, tracking the movement of Butler’s truck by cell tower activity, the improbability of the expense to haul a single salvage car across half the country, the further improbability of a drug dealer trusting $250,000 worth of drugs to a supposedly innocent tow truck driver, and that Butler had prior drug crimes, Klaassen said.
“This wasn’t Arnold Butler’s first rodeo,” he said.
However, Butler’s defense attorney Keith Nachbar said during his closing arguments that the government’s case was built on supposition, speculation and hypothesis.
Butler had a legitimate towing business and hauled vehicles across the United States, and he couldn’t be responsible for knowing what was in the car, Nachbar said,
He had a U.S. DOT number, insurance and a legitimate license, he was hauling the vehicle for the friend, and the car had a legitimate history as a salvage vehicle, Nachbar added.
The government, he added, called a felon who was promised immunity to testify against Butler, Nachbar added.
The cell tower evidence was sketchy because the towers’ range extends for about 90 miles, and the government neglected to check the drugs for fingerprints or to examine Butler’s financial records, he said.
Nearly six hours later, the jury returned its verdict.
Skavdahl thanked the jurors for their service, and said the United States needs people who will give their time to render justice, because no “prince, dictator or [Vladimir] Putin can do that.”