Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Wallace announced late Tuesday that 11 individuals — seven of them from the city of Ladysmith — have been charged in a methamphetamine drug conspiracy case in Rusk County.
The individuals charged in a 47-page complaint reside in Wisconsin and Minnesota and have been charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Law enforcement seized during the investigation 18 firearms, more than $17,000 cash, three pounds of methamphetamine and two pounds of THC.
Individuals charged in the criminal complaint are Steven A. Betro, 61 of Rosholt, Jacob C. Channell, 37, of Ladysmith, Barrington M. Daniel, 53, of Red Wing, Minn., Cody D. Dewitt, age 30 of Ladysmith, Rita D. Hryniewiecki, 44, of Ladysmith, Casey J. Kieleszewski, 35, of Plover, Jeffrey H. Murphy, 57, of Ladysmith, Brittany N. Prestwood, 31, of Ladysmith, Maliki R. Sandley-Wangner, 27, of Ladysmith, Nicholas G. Witt, 27, of Ladysmith and Tyler J. Zimmerman, 30 of Rudolph.
Upon conviction, each may be fined not more than $100,000, or imprisoned not more than 40 years, or both. Because each is a subsequent offender, having been convicted of a drug-related felony, which convictions remain of record and unreversed, the maximum term of imprisonment for the underlying crime may be increased by not more than 6 years.
Physical evidence was seized on March 8, March 13, March 25, April 23, April 30, May 5 and May 6.
A probable cause statement included with the criminal complaint alleges all of the defendants conspired between about Jan. 1 and May 6 by agreeing and participating in the possession with intent to deliver and the delivery of methamphetamine, into the county.
It states, “Each of them may not have known the other, but each of them was joined by a commonality of purposes, and each of them performed acts that advanced that purpose.”
It alleges Witt and Hryniewiecki were the main distributors/hubs of this conspiracy. It alleges during the time in question, they delivered in excess of 5 pounds of methamphetamine into the Rusk County community which was obtained through multiple sources in the Twin Cities and Red Wing areas of Minnesota. It also alleges Witt and Hryniewiecki distributed through Prestwood, Sandley-Wangner, Channell, Dewitt, Murphy, Betro, Zimmerman and Kieleszewski.
An individual identified only by by initials and interviewed by detectives states in the criminal complaint, “Hryniewiecki had been with Witt most of the time when Witt went to the Twin Cities to re-up his supply of methamphetamine.”
The individual told investigtors they “Believed Witt typically bought between a half pound and two pounds of methamphetamine each time he went to the Cities. The individual estimated Witt and Hryniewiecki would go to the Cities to buy methamphetamine every two or three days. The individual told investigators seeing Witt in possession of approximately a half pound or a pound of methamphetamine on his bed.
Documents also allege Prestwood, Sandley-Wangner, Channell, Murphy and Dewitt all sold methamphetamine in Rusk County that was purchased directly from Witt and Hryniewiecki, from their residences and vehicles.
“These sales included individual users as well as smaller, lower dealers,” the document states.
Kieleszewski also purchased methamphetamine from Witt and Hryniewiecki that he subsequently distributed in Portage County to various individuals to include Betro, the court filing alleges.
The investigation was led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office. They were assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office (Minn.), Ladysmith Police Department, Plover Police Department, Portage County Sheriff’s Office, Red Wing Police Department (Minn.), Washington County Sheriff’s Office (Minn.), Central Wisconsin Drug Task Force, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and the Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center. The lead investigators are Rusk County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Riley Kummet and DCI Special Agent Shawn Sutherland.
Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Wallace declined to comment late Tuesday.
The prosecution is led by Rusk County District Attorney Annette Barna. She credited the work of law enforcement in the investigation. She also noted the increased caseload of tracking 11 co-defendants at the same time in the court system and Rusk County Circuit Court Judge Steven P. Anderson hoping to “keep the wheels turning.”
“Meth is a problem here. It is a problem in a lot of places. It is a neverending problem, but we have to keep working at it,” Barna said. “This will have a huge impact on drugs in Rusk County.”
The case was also supported by DOJ regional drug prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Chad Verbeten. These regional prosecutors were created by 2017 Wisconsin Act 261, part of the HOPE legislation, to assist local law enforcement with major criminal investigations such as complicated drug conspiracies. The state prosecutors collaborate with law enforcement to develop investigative strategies and support local district attorneys with valuable caseload assistance and a level of expertise in drug conspiracy prosecutions.
— Assistant Editor Jerilea Hendrick contributed to this story.