New arrest in large-scale meth ring

CODY — A fifth conspirator from a large-scale Park County meth ring is now facing charges.

Amy Lopez, 37, is accused by authorities of conspiracy to deliver meth, possession of meth with intent to deliver and unlawful delivery of meth, combined charges carrying up to 60 years in prison and $75,000.

Lopez is alleged to have directly associated with now federally imprisoned inmate Bill Lee in her involvement with trafficking narcotics, an activity authorities followed from January 2017-February 2018.

Lee, 43, was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison in January for conspiracy to distribute meth as a felon, caught using a controlled substance, while also in possession of firearms. Prior to his March 2018 arrest, investigators had been following him and his network for 17 months previous, according to court documents.

“Agents utilized many different investigative techniques to identify co-conspirators and understand the hierarchy of the organization,” wrote Chris Wallace, a Powell Police officer and Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation agent.

Lee was believed by authorities to be one of the biggest local meth distributors, with an operation that extended from the Big Horn Basin to Gillette and Casper. Wallace said the state is filing 23 different affidavits in relation to Lee’s network.

“We could have done 40 or more,” Wallace said.

In early 2018, a confidential source had told investigators Lopez engaged sexual acts with Lee as a way to help pay off a $5,000 debt she owed to him for loaned or “fronted” meth, but there was no further evidence found verifying these allegations, Wallace said.

A ledger in Lee’s cellphone showed she still owed him $1,700 at the time of Lee’s arrest, Wallace said,

In February 2018, investigators launched a wiretap of Lee’s phone and agents also initiated a controlled buy of meth from Lopez in early 2018. Authorities discovered multiple conversations in which Lee and Lopez discussed selling meth and paying money for meth.

Lopez’s public defender attorney Rich Hopkinson criticized cellphone texts as being a reliable piece of evidence during a preliminary hearing Monday. Lopez sat in a bright-orange prison jumpsuit, with long dark brown hair, lightly streaked with red highlights extending to her shoulders.

“We object to the statement that they had her on the wire,” Hopkinson said. “The testimony of the prosecution’s information is on text messages.”

In the controlled buy, an unnamed individual drove a confidential informant to Lopez’s apartment in Powell to purchase meth. It was the unnamed individual who purchased the one gram of meth and then delivered it to the confidential informant, who allegedly waited in a vehicle while Lopez initiated the transaction in her residence.

The ambiguity of this transaction was a point of contention raised by Hopkinson during a preliminary hearing Monday.

“The buy purchaser could have had meth on them,” Hopkinson said. “The only real evidence tying in Ms. Lopez is this … this controlled purchase where the confidential informant didn’t make the purchase.”

Wallace said the individual who directly received the controlled substance later became a confidential informant for authorities.

So far this controlled buy is the state’s only piece of material evidence connecting Lopez to distribution of meth.

“We acknowledge that the evidence in this case is a bit different than most,” said Leda Pojman, Park County deputy prosecuting attorney. “It is more circumstantial evidence than we often see, but the state has still met its burden to prove probable cause.”

All other information being used against Lopez was obtained in text messages and through Lee’s testimony.

“He acknowledged what we already knew,” Wallace said, “admitting to supplying Lopez.”

Cellphone records reveal Lee’s patience with Lopez wore thin about a month before he got apprehended in Casper, with his wife Wendy Lee. Meth found on him was tested with a 95-100 percent purity.

“Better hit my hand with something or [expletive]’s going to get real,” Lee texted Lopez, before adding a more civil, “pay your bill.”

Lopez responded to a different money request posed by Lee at a later date, accusing him of ripping her off.

“Cuz (yo)u did nothing but drag me down farther, especially when (yo)u charge me $1,200 for something (yo)u paid $300 for,” she messaged him.

Lee told authorities he paid his Colorado meth source, Brian Bland, $6,500 per pound of meth. Wallace said Lopez, in turn, was to pay Lee $1,000-$1,200 per ounce when sold.

When divided up and re-sold in small quantities, Lee could expect to see more than 12 times his original investment.

Lopez and another man had also been seen by the same informant exchanging marijuana for meth with Lee at a site in Lovell, an act Lee later admitted to transacting.

About four months after being put in custody, Lee confirmed his involvement with Lopez and said he would regularly supply her with 3.5 grams (“8 ball”) of meth at a time without her payment and also provided her larger quantities – on one occasion as much as four ounces, about 10 times.

Lee also provided investigators names of people he knew Lopez was selling meth to, according to court documents.

Another piece of critical evidence Lee provided on Lopez is that she took “drug runs” with him to engage with Bland, Wallace said. Bland was sentenced to 15 years in prison in March for his involvement in the meth ring.

One of Bland’s other suppliers, Phillip McGuire, 50, of Cheyenne, received 10 years for conspiracy to distribute meth. For their cooperation in the operation, Powell resident Howard Shull, 62, received five years in prison and Wendy Lee, 50, received 3-5 years in prison, charged on two counts for possessing meth with intent to deliver.

Cody resident Erin Clark, 31, is also facing charges for conspiring to deliver meth and possession with intent to deliver meth, felonies carrying up to 40 years in prison and $50,000. According to court documents, Clark was in the third tier of this operation below Bill Lee and an unnamed co-conspirator. Clark told fellow agents Chris Wallace and Juliet Fish that Lee or a co-conspirator would deliver her meth from the drive-through window at the now defunct LaVina’s bar and liquor store in Powell.

Lopez is still in custody with a $50,000 cash-only bond after her original arrest on July 3.