Five men pleaded guilty on March 6 and 7 in federal court to drug smuggling and money-laundering charges connected to what immigration officials termed an “international marijuana smuggling operation.”
The operation relied on hiding hundreds of pounds of pot in a reefer trailer’s walls, according to a news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Jeffrey Kopp, 53, of Marion, IA, Michael Breneman, 55, of Maquoketa, IA, and David Downing, 32, of Vancouver, Canada, each pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possession with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, in addition to money laundering. Daniel Berger, 41, of Hinsdale, IL, and Azar Niekamp, 31, of Vancouver, Canada, each pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.
The ICE press release stated that during the plea hearing, each defendant admitted smuggling “high-quality marijuana” from Canada to the U.S. between 2005 and May 18, 2007. The investigation was launched after Customs and Border Patrol officers in Pembina, ND, found 600 pounds of marijuana hidden in the walls of a reefer trailer as it entered the U.S. from Canada.
Investigators learned the marijuana was scheduled to be delivered to Kopp and Breneman in Iowa. ICE agents worked “controlled deliveries” of the drugs in Iowa and Chicago, including drops of 8,000 pounds of marijuana and $3.5 million in drug proceeds.
Breneman, Kopp and Downing each face sentences of 10 years to life in federal prison, a $4,000 fine, and five years to life on supervised release following a prison term. Berger and Niekamp face five to 40 years in prison without parole, a $2,000 fine and five years to life of supervised release following a prison term.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 27 and 28 in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, IA.