Star meth ring defendants plead guilty

Idaho StatesmanOctober 17, 2013 

— Four members of a methamphetamine distribution ring based in Star have pleaded guilty to federal drug charges, with the fifth member scheduled to enter a guilty plea on Monday.

On Wednesday, Ashley Marie Armstrong, 26, of Kuna pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute meth, during a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine when she's sentenced Jan. 6 by Chief District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.

Three other defendants, Ausencio Gonzalez Tovar, 48, Samantha Jo Tackitt, 31, both of Star, and Michael Scott Longhi, 26, of Eagle, earlier changed their pleas to guilty.

Gonzalez faces a prison term of 10 years to life for possession with intent to distribute meth when he's sentenced Dec. 11. Tackitt, his girlfriend, and Longhi pleaded guilty to a different county of conspiracy to distribute meth than Armstrong. Like Gonzalez, they face 10 years to life.

Tackitt is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 14, with Longhi to appear for sentencing Dec. 10.

Darin James Bangham, 40, of Star, is charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute.

Authorities received a tip from a confidential informant in 2010 that Tackitt was selling methamphetamine from a rental property in the 200 block of North Knox Street in Star. Three other informants told investigators in late 2012 and earlier this year that Tackitt and Gonzalez, who lived together, frequently drove to California to bring meth back to Idaho to sell.

The drugs, the informants said, were given to Bangham and Longhi to sell on their behalf, according to court documents.

On March 8, an Ada County sheriff's deputy pulled over a sedan driven by Bangham for an expired vehicle registration. A search revealed 30 grams of meth and a small amount of marijuana hidden inside a canister with a false bottom.

He later told investigators he had previously sold 1.5 pounds of meth obtained from Gonzalez.

The following week, Christopher Davis, a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, drove by the Knox Street residence and saw Gonzalez opening the lid on a light blue ice chest. The informants had earlier told investigators that Gonzalez and his group used a blue ice chest with a false bottom to move their drugs.

Later that month, police obtained permission from Dale to place a tracking device on a 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer owned by Gonzalez. A few days later, the vehicle was tracked to Riverside, Calif. During its return to Idaho, the vehicle was stopped on Interstate 84 near Meridian.

Gonzalez was driving the vehicle, with Longhi as passenger. Police found nearly 5 pounds of meth in the hidden compartment in the ice chest. Thirty additional grams were found in a plastic bag inside the Traliblazer.

Subsequently, a 1999 Honda Accord driven by Tackitt and Armstrong was followed from Tackitt's residence and stopped for a speeding violation in Eagle. An ice chest in the car was searched and 3.5 pounds of meth was found. Another 6.7 grams of meth were found in a purse belonging to Tackitt, police said.

Authorities seized the Trailblazer and the Accord and went to state court to obtain legal title to them. Armstrong agreed in her plea agreement to forfeit $18,400 in cash that was seized and another $10,000 in drug profits.

The government was also awarded $8,600 in cash seized from the other defendants, according to state court records.

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