Judge orders prison time for marijuana trafficker
By Janice Gregorson
A Rochester man convicted of joining others in bringing some 200 pounds of marijuana into Rochester for sale several years ago has been ordered to serve nearly seven years in prison.
Olmsted District Judge Joseph Wieners followed state sentencing guidelines Monday in imposing the 81-month prison term on Joseph Dale Kruger, 40. The defense had asked for a probationary sentence, saying Kruger was a minor player in the operation. The prosecution, however, asked for a longer term, saying this was a major drug offense.
Kruger was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree controlled substance crime during a court trial just weeks ago.
Authorities had alleged that Kruger and others were involved in a major marijuana trafficking operation in 1999. A Nebraska state trooper stopped a vehicle in March 1999. During a search of the vehicle, the trooper found 201 pounds of marijuana. The driver of the vehicle said he was delivering it to Roger Wayne Bennett of Rochester. The driver agreed to work as a confidential informant with authorities and arranged for the delivery. Bennett subsequently was charged and pleaded guilty. He was put on probation for 30 years, ordered to pay more than $7,000 in fines and sentenced to six months in jail.
Charges against another man were dropped after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the search warrant of his home.
On Monday, Senior Assistant Olmsted County Attorney Jim Spencer told Wieners that he has been prosecuting drug cases for 15 years and, dollarwise, this is the largest drug case he has handled. He said the marijuana seized would have had a $200,000 wholesale price.
"That is not an inflated price. That is what it was worth," he said. On the street, marijuana sells for more than $100 an ounce, he said.
He said the large scale of the operation calls for a stiffer sentence.
"This was not someone selling small amounts of marijuana to support his own habit. He was trying to make a whole lot of money to pay for his gambling," Spencer said.
But defense attorney Bill Wright said Kruger was just a minor player in the case. He said Kruger has no prior felony drug convictions and is amenable to probation.
"This is marijuana. Not cocaine or methamphetamine," Wright said. There is no evidence Kruger was involved to make money to support a gambling habit, he said. Rather, Kruger has receipts showing gambling winnings in excess of $100,000 during the two-year period in question, Wright said.
"It's just speculation the money came from drugs," Wright said.
In the end, Wieners said there were no grounds for departure either way, and he ordered Kruger to serve 81 months in prison. He must serve two-thirds of that time before being eligible for release. He also was fined $1,000.