A Rawlins man involved with a major interstate local drug ring linked to incidents of violence -- including cutting off fingers of nonpaying customers -- has been charged with two felony counts of methamphetamine distribution.

Gregory Dean Martinez, 55, heard the charges -- conspiracy to deliver meth and delivering meth -- during his initial appearance in Natrona County Circuit Court on Tuesday.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years imprisonment, Assistant District Attorney Randall Carnahan said.

Carnahan recommended, and Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown agreed, to set Martinez's bond at $20,000. Martinez' criminal record includes a federal firearms violation, assault on a peace officer, a history of family violence, and involvement in a multi-state drug conspiracy. He will have a preliminary hearing within several weeks to determine whether his case will be bound over to state district court for trial.

The investigation into the drug conspiracy began nearly two years ago with surveillance, wiretaps, confidential sources, and multiple search warrants of properties and text messages, according to an affidavit filed with Natrona County Circuit court.

The apparent ringleader of the conspiracy was Ernie Montoya Sr., who with about a dozen other defendants have been charged in federal court. Many have been sentenced.

Montoya would drive from Casper to Salt Lake City and obtain quantities of more than 500 grams — 17.9 ounces — and return to Wyoming and distribute them to other co-conspirators including Martinez for selling in Casper, Gillette, Riverton and Rawlins.

The investigation found connections between the conspiracy and a stabbing in Rawlins, two possible meth overdoses in Natrona County, and an assault. Martinez told the court he lives in Rawlins, but gets his mail in Evansville.

Members of the conspiracy also got rough when people could not pay Montoya, according to the affidavit. "Martinez was present on several occasions in Salt Lake City, Utah, when people did not have the correct amount of money and they had their fingers cut off by members of 'the family.'"