The last of 17 defendants was sentenced to prison Thursday for his role in a conspiracy to bring hundreds of pounds of high-grade methamphetamine to La Crosse.
Adam Vang, 29, of Hickory, N.C., was accused of driving to the Twin Cities to pick up tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs that his cousins purchased from a Mexican drug cartel and helped distribute it to a network of dealers in La Crosse.
Vang denied high-level involvement in the drug ring and was the only person accused in the case who took his case to trial. A jury found him guilty in June of conspiracy to distribute meth.
Gallery: La Crosse meth ring
Authorities in 2015 busted a sophisticated drug trafficking enterprise that involved the distribution of high-grade methamphetamine manufactured by Mexican drug cartels into La Crosse and surrounding counties. Seventeen people have now been sentenced for their roles in selling hundreds of pounds of drugs.
Judge Scott Horne sentenced Vang to 3½ years in prison and another 3½ years on supervision, citing Vang’s lack of prior criminal history but also noting the severity of the case.
“There’s no question about the harm it’s done to the community,” Horne said. “This is one of the most destructive drugs I’ve seen in over 35 years in the court system.”
Horne said witnesses who testified during Vang’s trial were “transparent” in lying on the stand and contradicting their previous statements to protect him.
Assistant District Attorney John Kellis asked for a six-year prison term, noting Vang’s co-defendants took responsibility for their actions by pleading guilty. Their sentences ranged from probation to 7½ years in prison.
While acknowledging he played a smaller role, Kellis said that Vang has not taken responsibility nor shown remorse.
“The bottom line is Adam Vang is the one responsible,” he said.
Attorney Eric Sanford said Vang was living in Alaska when his cousins began trafficking meth, and was a good husband and father who played a small role and should not face the same punishment as those in charge.
“This conspiracy was run like a business,” Sandford said. “There’s somebody at the top of the chain, and then there’s employees.”
Vang, who has been in jail for more than a year, apologized to the community and his family but stopped short of admitting his crime.
“I was aware what my cousins were doing, and what they were doing was wrong,” he said. “I did nothing to stop them.”
Authorities first learned of the enterprise in January 2015, when La Crosse police found 76 grams of meth in Yia Vang’s car after he crashed into a tree during a high-speed chase. Vang told investigators that he and his brothers had been selling meth for more than a decade, at times bringing two to three pounds each week for other players to distribute in the region.
Police busted the ring in October of that year, when they arrested John Vang with drugs, a tactical rifle and numerous handguns.
Tom Johnson, investigative coordinator for the West Central Metropolitan Enforcement Group, said the arrests made an initial dent but didn’t stop the local drug trade.
“There are people to fill in the blanks,” he said. “It just keeps going.”
La Crosse meth ring
|Vong Vang||33||Holmen||founder||6.5 years prison, 4 years supervision|
|Yia Vang||37||La Crosse||leader||7.5 years prison, 5 years supervision|
|John Vang||29||Holmen||leader||4 years prison, 4 years supervision|
|Ia Vang||31||Minneapolis||sister whose home the Vangs used to meet their Mexican sources||charges dismissed|
|Christopher McCartney||32||Holmen||user-turned-dealer||6 years prison, 4 years supervision|
|Melissa Ozleplebici||26||Holmen||sold meth in $400 increments||5 years prison, 3 years supervision|
|Timothy Loftus||37||Holmen||busted with 25 grams of meth||5 years prison, 3 years supervision|
|KoJoua Vu||27||La Crosse||Caught with $15,000 worth of drugs and $20,000 cash after selling meth to an informant while on bond||5 years prison, 4 years supervision|
|Justin Castner||32||Merrillan, Wis.||Considered a "high-level" dealer, Castner was sentenced for drug convictions in neighboring counties||5 years prison, 2.5 years supervision|
|Allan Popp||35||La Crosse||4 years prison, 3 years supervision|
|Jennifer Rondeau-Wilbur||37||La Crosse||Mid-level dealer||3.5 years prison, 2.5 years supervision|
|Adam Vang||29||Hickory, N.C.||Driver who brought drugs from Twin Cities to La Crosse||3.5 years prison, 3.5 years supervision|
|Novah Moore||36||La Crosse||Sentenced on prior drug charges before the 2015 bust||2.5 years prison, 2.5 years supervision|
|Sam Lestina||42||La Crosse||3 years probation|
|Brynn Panek||36||La Crosse||3 years probation|
|Jacob Porath||36||La Crosse||3 years probation|
|Jordan Holter||33||La Crosse||Holter was sober and days away from completing drug court when charged for his involvement two years earlier||1.5 years probation|