Federal Trial of California Man Charged With Drug Trafficking Starts in Casper
Tow truck driver Arnold Devonne Butler loaded a salvage car carrying large quantities of drugs in Sacramento, drove from California through Nevada, Utah and was pulled over by a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper east of Cheyenne in May, a federal prosecutor told a jury in Casper on Monday.
Wyoming U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen said the trooper was suspicious that Butler's truck didn't have U.S. Department of Transportation identification, that Butler was belligerent and unaware of commercial truck regulations, and the car in the back was not adequately secured.
Other suspicions led to a search of the car where a secret compartment held 46 pounds of methamphetamine, and multiple-pound quantities of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, Klaassen said during his opening statement of Butler's five-day trial.
Butler was charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and a combination of all four drugs. Each count is punishable by 15 years to life imprisonment, with the exception of the cocaine charge, which is punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment.
Klaassen told the jury that witness testimony and other evidence will show that Butler was a experienced courier who knew he was hauling drugs, that he was working closely with a drug dealer now charged in federal court in California, and that documents and phone records will demonstrate those connections.
"This is not about an innocent tow truck driver unluckily caught," Klaassen told the jury.
"This is an experienced (drug) courier working with others," he said.
But Butler's defense attorney Keith Nachbar opened his defense with three words: Supposition, speculation and hypothesis.
Butler had a legitimate towing business and hauled vehicles across the United States, Nachbar said,
He had a U.S. DOT number, insurance and a legitimate license, he was hauling the vehicle for the friend, and the car had a legitimate history as a salvage vehicle, Nachbar added,
The prosecution will unsuccessfully try to tie a major drug bust in California with people Butler knew, but the government has no evidence tying Butler to that incident.
The interaction between Butler and the trooper is questionable, because the trooper's audio recorder was off during the traffic stop, Nachbar said. "You don't get to hear what happened."
Butler denied any knowledge of the drugs in the car at the time of the May 14 stop, he continues to deny it, and there is no record of any transfer of money, either, Nachbar said.
Because of these and other factors, the jury will find Butler is not guilty, he added. "The government has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The trial will resume at the U.S. Courthouse, 111 S. Wolcott, at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.