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Mandan man sentenced in meth conspiracy linked to 2 deaths

BISMARCK – A Mandan man was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison Monday for his role in a drug conspiracy that prosecutors say trucked into North Dakota more than 33 pounds of methamphetamine that was linked to the overdose deaths of two people.

Joseph Thomas Senger, 53, and a dozen others were charged by indictment about a year ago in U.S. District Court in Bismarck with conspiracy to distribute drugs resulting in serious bodily injury or death.

Senger and defendant Brock Fay Fish of Bismarck each faced a separate charge for distributing meth allegedly used in the overdose death of Senger’s girlfriend at the time, 59-year-old Cheri Bettis of Mandan, on Feb. 6, 2013.

Fish and his girlfriend, Billie Jo Kirkpatrick, also were charged separately for allegedly supplying the meth consumed in the Dec. 20, 2012, overdose death of Douglas Wayne Peterson, 39, in Linton, N.D. Peterson was from Fish’s hometown of Pollock, S.D.

Fish, a truck driver who has lived in Bismarck most of his adult life and was charged in all six counts of the indictment, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors last month and pleaded guilty July 10 to the drug conspiracy charge. His sentencing is set for Oct. 20.

At his plea hearing, the 50-year-old Fish testified that he needed money to get his truck outfitted for work in the oilfields. He said a California man – Bretton Robert Link, one of the 13 original defendants – introduced him to the possibility of trafficking in meth, according to a transcript from the hearing.

Fish testified that he would fly out to California and drive trucks back to North Dakota for a truck dealer, hiding the meth in his clothes bag. He said he would pay $5,000 per four ounces of meth in California and would turn a $4,000 to $5,000 profit on it back in North Dakota.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said Fish also obtained meth in 2012 and 2013 from a second source in Arizona, defendant Robert George Schaner.

Investigators eventually executed a search warrant at the farm of defendant Gerald Lee Schneider, where they found Link and defendant Andreas Samsa in a vehicle with $48,427 in cash. A 5-pound shipment of meth that had been delivered to the farm and divvied out to the co-conspirators just before authorities arrived, Myers said at the plea hearing.

Federal charges against Link were dismissed in January after he pleaded guilty to Class AA felony criminal conspiracy last October in state district court in Emmons County. He was sentenced to 40 years in state prison, with 20 years suspended during five years of supervised probation.

The other defendants indicted on the federal conspiracy charge were Rodney Lee Braun, Charles James Chadwick, Dale Kenneth Fish, Dee Augusta Gillette, Justin John Hinkel and Dean Derwood Windhorst.

Brock Fish, Windhorst, Link, Samsa, Schneider  and Gillette also were charged separately with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute within a school zone.

All of the defendants have either reached plea agreements or pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and are awaiting sentencing.

Myers and defense attorney Stormy Vickers of Fargo jointly recommended that Senger serve a 144-month sentence. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced Senger to 139 months, giving him credit for five months served in a halfway house.

“I plan to live a sober life after this, that’s for sure,” Senger told the judge.