By CJ Baker
Via Wyoming News Exchange
POWELL — In 2015, federal authorities agreed that William “Bill” Lee’s days of dealing and using methamphetamine appeared to be behind him. As a probation officer explained at the time, Lee had completed his court-ordered drug treatment, stabilized his personal life in Cody and was “no longer in need of supervision.”
However, it was only about a year later, in November 2016, that Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents in Powell began to hear that Lee was again involved with meth. One informant later told authorities that “Lee was dealing ‘a lot; a [expletive] load,’ and was probably the biggest methamphetamine dealer in the area,” DCI Special Agent Chris Wallace wrote in a court filing.
DCI agents and other law enforcement agencies spent roughly 17 months probing the distribution network — wiretapping Lee’s phone, interviewing dozens of people and covertly purchasing drugs from him and his associates.
Their evidence showed Lee was purchasing large quantities of meth, then passing it along to distributors in Cody and Powell, who he reportedly kept in-line with threats and firearms.
DCI agents worked their way up and through the trafficking organization, tracking drugs from the Denver area to Gillette, Casper, Cheyenne and Park County. The efforts culminated in arrests in March 2018 and recently resulted in a combined total of nearly 45 years worth of prison time between Lee and four other defendants. They included two of Lee’s suppliers — 42-year-old Brian L. Bland of the Denver area and 50-year-old Phillip T. McGuire of Cheyenne — plus two conspirators who aided the operation in Park County: former Powell resident Howard K. Shull, 62, and Lee’s wife, 50-year-old Wendy A. Lee. All but Wendy Lee’s cases were handled in federal, rather than state, court; the last active case came to a close on March 1, with Bland’s sentencing in U.S. District Court in Casper.
However, Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said last month that he still plans to pursue charges against other people who were involved in the distribution ring.
“This case and the facts surrounding this case do remain under investigation and certainly the state is and will be pursuing other avenues in this case,” Skoric said.
During Wendy Lee’s sentencing, District Court Judge Bill Simpson referred to methamphetamine as a “poison” that “creates nothing but madness and mayhem wherever it’s found.”
Informants alleged to authorities that Bill Lee was zealous in collecting on his debts — and tried to get women to repay him with sexual favors.
Multiple people also told authorities about an incident in the summer of 2017, in which an associate of Lee’s — identified only as a conspirator in court documents — allegedly forced one indebted distributor into a vehicle at gunpoint. The debtor was then taken to Lee’s shop on Trotter Road, north of Cody, where “Lee threatened [the debtor] that if money was not paid, people were coming after [them],” Wallace wrote.
One informant later told Wallace “that if Lee had not hurt anyone yet that he was going to.”
A couple months after that, in November 2017, Lee and his wife were both arrested by Cody police for domestic battery, “after beating one another with a metal rod,” Wallace wrote.
They were released shortly after their arrest and, according to charging documents, immediately resumed the drug operation.
In late January 2018, an informant told DCI agents that Lee was preparing to “make the circuit” — that is, to deliver meth to his re-sellers. A couple days later, agents observed Lee meeting with unnamed “co-conspirators” at another shop he used on Lane 10, just south of Powell.
In February, Lee lost an eyeglass case at the Powell Maverik that contained nearly 14 grams of meth and drug paraphernalia, Wallace wrote; later that month, the Lees reportedly lost a black box containing more than 18 grams of meth between Deaver and Cowley. Both items were recovered by law enforcement.
DCI agents moved in and arrested the Lees in Casper in March 2018, just before they were due to buy another pound of meth from Bland.
At an appearance in federal court in Casper earlier this year, Bill Lee accepted a more than 11-year prison sentence (135 months) for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and for possessing a firearm while a convicted felon. Lee said he knew he’d messed up.
“I just want to apologize to the court, to my family, to my community,” he said. “I’m sorry to hurt you guys again.”
His prior trouble with the law included a pair of felony convictions in Wyoming’s federal court in 2004 for conspiracy to traffic at least 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine and for possessing a firearm while a felon. Lee served about six years in prison — getting a substantially reduced sentence for helping prosecute others. However, in 2011, after Lee used meth and was involved in two altercations with his then-wife, a frustrated U.S. District Judge William Downes ordered him to serve another three years.
Lee was released from prison in early 2014 and was then allowed to end his supervised release a year early, in 2015; his probation officer noted that Lee had gained custody of his child, remarried and was running his father’s plumbing business.
However, he would relapse by late 2016.
At January’s sentencing on the new charges, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl told Lee that he’s had more opportunities to succeed than many other people — including having the benefit of family members who continue to support him.
“Unfortunately,” Skavdahl said, “a lot of your skills were put back into your addiction in terms of running a drug business as opposed to a plumbing business.”
While illegal, the drug distribution business can be lucrative, with dealers able to buy large quantities at low prices in larger “source cities” like Denver. Lee told authorities he was paying Bland $6,500 per pound of meth — material that, when resold by the gram in Park County, could fetch $68,000 to $80,000.
Bland was reportedly the highest-ranking distributor in the network and received the stiffest sentence of the bunch. He was ordered to serve more than 15 years in prison (188 months) for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. When Bland traveled to Casper to meet up with the Lees last March, authorities found 1.5 grams of meth in his Range Rover.
Bland had been on parole in Colorado at the time; on the wiretap, Bland was overheard saying he’d have to take a urine test before he could make the drug run.
Meanwhile, McGuire — who had been on parole for a prior drug offense in Wyoming — received a 10-year prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He had reportedly acted as a middleman between Bland and Lee, delivering a couple pounds of meth to Lee at Boysen Reservoir and at a lodge outside Ten Sleep in early 2018.
As for Shull, he was pulled over in Cody late on the night of March 12. Cody Police Officer Blake Stinson said in court filings that he stopped Shull’s truck after watching it cross the center line and after noticing very dark window tint.
In his conversation with Stinson, a talkative Shull — who was also on meth at the time — reportedly mentioned that, “The only reason for dark tint is to hide things.”
Powell Police Department Sgt. Chad Miner and his K-9 Niko were summoned, and the dog alerted to the scent of narcotics on the vehicle. Inside, officers found a sawed-off, double-barrel shotgun — which Shull was prohibited from possessing due to a 1995 felony.
A federal grand jury later indicted Shull for being part of conspiracy to distribute at least 50 grams of methamphetamine. (The other indicted defendants — Bill Lee, Bland and McGuire — were charged with distributing more than 500 grams.)
Shull was sentenced to serve five years in the federal prison system.
Wendy Lee, meanwhile, received the lightest sentence: a three- to five-year prison sentence for two counts of possessing methamphetamine with intent to deliver.
Charging documents say informants told authorities that Wendy Lee had helped her husband collect on debts and made at least one drug sale. She also traveled with her husband on the ill-fated trip to Casper, where the Lees were caught with thousands of dollars in cash and more than 35 grams of meth between them.
At last month’s sentencing, Wendy Lee said she deeply regrets everything that happened.
“If I could take it all back, I would do that in a heartbeat — and not merely because I am now being made to pay for my part in anything,” she said. “I became someone I didn’t want to become and I’m actually quite grateful that this happened, because now I get to be the person that I was before.”
Unlike the other defendants, she had no criminal history. Wyoming Probation and Parole had recommended she receive probation — an “all too common recommendation we’re seeing these days from Probation and Parole,” Skoric said. He instead offered the prison time, and Wendy Lee accepted it.
While calling her sentencing a sad day, Judge Simpson also called it a chance for redemption.
“It’s a chance to go forward and do some good once you’ve served your prison term,” the judge told Wendy Lee.
The remarks at Bill Lee’s sentencing in federal court were similar, but more foreboding.
A federal prosecutor noted Lee could have received 20 years to life and his defense attorney agreed that Lee would have to make a long-term commitment to his sobriety once he’s released.
Judge Skavdahl sought to drive that point home.
“I want to emphasize to you, if you go back to the ways that led you here today, you won’t be spending months; you won’t be spending years. You’ll be spending the rest of your life in federal prison or in a prison cell, and that would be a tragedy for you, your son and everyone else,” Skavdahl told Lee. “So I hope that you’re able to heed that and you’re able to get the assistance that you need and become the success that you certainly can be.”