Published On: Fri, Aug 20th, 2010
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Tribal Member sentenced in Marijuana Conspiracy

BRYSON CITY – Five defendants who earlier entered pleas of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana were sentenced on Wednesday, Aug. 18 in U.S. District Court in Bryson City by the Honorable Martin Reidinger.  According to official court documents, the marijuana conspiracy took place in Jackson County from January 2008 to July 27, 2009.

Billy Michael Wayne Rhinehart, 23, an EBCI tribal member of Whittier, was sentenced to 57 months to be followed by three years of supervised release. 

The other four defendants were sentenced as follows:

–          Albert Espinoza, 30, of Alamo, Texas – 210 months to be followed by five years of supervised release

–          Jaime Martinez, 39, of Weslaco, Texas – 120 months to be followed by five years of supervised release

–          Gary Robert Fronrath, 21, of Whittier – 18 months to be followed by two years of supervised release

A sixth defendant who was part of the conspiracy, Marcus Cody Waldroup, previously entered a guilty plea and is presently awaiting sentencing.  All of the defendants are presently in local federal custody.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Indian Affair; the Cherokee Indian Police Department; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the Jackson and Swain County Sheriff’s Offices.  The prosecution was handled for the government by Assistant United States Attorney Don Gast of the Asheville office of the Unite States Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

Also sentenced on Wednesday, Aug. 18 by Judge Reidinger in a separate and unreleated case was Willard Ammons, 44, and EBCI tribal member from Cherokee.  Ammons had been charged with one criminal count alleging that on June 19, 2008, on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Jackson County, he had set fire to and burned a dwelling. 

Ammons had previously entered a guilty plea to the charge.  He received a 36-month term of imprisonment to be followed by four years of supervised release.  Ammons has been in local federal custody since May 2009 pending the outcome of his case. 

The case was investigated by the Cherokee Indian Police Department, and was handled for the government by Assistant United States Attorney Don Gast. 

Federal sentences are served without possibility of parole.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice release

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