Lemon Creek Correctional Center pictured on Friday, April 13, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Lemon Creek Correctional Center pictured on Friday, April 13, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Case with nine co-defendants proving difficult to schedule

Trials likely coming soon in Lemon Creek Correctional Center drug smuggling case

A group of defendants who were indicted for attempting to smuggle drugs into Lemon Creek Correctional Center will likely head to trial this year, though some of them might have different trial dates.

During a lengthy court hearing Tuesday that ranged from chaotic to confrontational, eight of the nine defendants in the case appeared either in person or over the phone. Each defendant has a separate lawyer, and most attorneys were present over the phone or in person as well.

Eight of the nine defendants were indicted on two counts of second-degree drug misconduct, two counts of third-degree drug misconduct and three counts of first-degree promoting contraband. According to charging documents, the charges stem from a Dec. 16, 2017 attempt to smuggle methamphetamine, heroin and Suboxone into the prison.

[Read the details of the indictment here]

With the recent retirement of two Juneau judges, former Fairbanks Judge Niesje J. Steinkruger held the hearing and said the case is assigned to her for the foreseeable future. Scheduling trial dates and hearing dates for nine defendants with nine lawyers, Steinkruger said in court, is going to be a difficult task.

Most defendants and lawyers agreed to set a trial for 8:30 a.m. Nov. 5. Public Defender Eric Hedland, present in court, expressed a few concerns about trying to coordinate this many people for one trial. He said if one lawyer files a motion, that could change the approach for other lawyers and defendants as well.

Two of the defendants present in court Tuesday asked to have an earlier date, as they said they’re convinced of their innocence and looking to get on with their lives.

One of those defendants, 30-year-old Chad Kreftmeyer, is currently at LCCC and was present in court Tuesday. According to charging documents, Kreftmeyer was one of the people directing others about how to set up the smuggling of drugs into the prison.

Kreftmeyer said in court, sometimes using strong language directed at others, that he didn’t feel it was appropriate to charge everybody with drug misconduct because only one person — 34-year-old co-defendant Amanda Natkong — was found in possession of drugs that day.

“I understand this is an unusual situation for the state, but the fact is, the state is the one pursuing these charges, and maliciously, I feel, because there’s no possible way that nine people held possession or manufactured drugs,” Kreftmeyer said.

While other defendants waived their right to a speedy trial in order to allow their attorneys more time to prepare for trial, Kreftmeyer ardently refused. His trial is set for July 23. Co-defendant Tamra R. Fuhr, a 25-year-old Juneau resident, also elected to head to trial July 23 in an attempt to get this behind her, she said.

Most attorneys involved in the hearing agreed that they could use much more time to prepare for the case, as there’s a hefty amount of discovery. Charging documents list a number of communications between the co-defendants between Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, 2017, as they allegedly set up a meeting between Natkong and 26-year-old co-defendant Brendon Wesley Adam Valdez.

Valdez was in custody at the time and remains in custody. He refused to come to Tuesday’s hearing and a hearing for him was scheduled for Wednesday, Steinkruger said in court.

The full list of co-defendants is: Jerry Andrew Active, 29; Natkong, 34; Kreftmeyer, 30; Buck Robert Mills, 39; Valdez, 26; John C. Negley, 46; Roberta J. White, 43; Fuhr, 25; and Susan Paulsen, 58. White is the only defendant with a different charge, as she faces one count of third-degree drug misconduct and one count of first-degree promoting contraband.

According to charging documents, the nine co-defendants communicated in December 2017 to set up a meeting between Natkong and Valdez where Natkong would deliver the drugs to Valdez. Law enforcement officials intersected Natkong as she walked into LCCC that day and found her in possession of more than 2.5 grams of controlled substances, according to charging documents.

The release states that there’s a maximum sentence of 10 years for second-degree drug misconduct, and there’s a maximum of five years sentence for each additional charge in the indictment.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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