BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A former leader of the Montana House of Representatives was sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday for his central role in a drug trafficking ring that sold large volumes of methamphetamine in Montana and Wyoming.
Michael Lange, the Republican House majority leader during the 2007 Legislature, arranged deliveries of at least 20 and possibly up to 50 pounds (nine and possibly up to 23 kilograms) of meth from a source in California over a seven-month period in 2016, prosecutors said.
Lange pleaded guilty in September to drug conspiracy and distribution charges.
He claimed prior to Thursday's sentencing that he trafficked just seven pounds (three kilograms) of the drug, but prosecutors said that was contradicted by his own statements to investigators.
During his three two-year terms in the Legislature, Lange supported giving $4 million in state money to an anti-methamphetamine public relations campaign, the Montana Meth Project. He was ousted from his leadership position after being captured on video in a profane tirade against then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat.
Prosecutors said Lange, 57, lived a crime-free life until 2014, when he was charged with driving under the influence. That year, he committed a second DUI in California in conjunction with a felony charge of possessing over an ounce (28 grams) of methamphetamine for sale.
He was sentenced to 16 months in prison in that case, according to court records.
Shortly after his release, Lange began dealing much larger quantities of the drug, prosecutors said. It was sold through a network of 20 distributors in Montana and Wyoming, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan said.
Lange was indicted in February 2017 after three alleged dealers identified him as their supplier following their apprehension in Wyoming.
The source of the drug in California — identified in court papers only as "Manny" — has not been indicted.
Co-defendant Jose Soltero acknowledged acting as a middleman and interpreter for Lange and Manny. He received a 12-year prison sentence Wednesday.
Soltero claimed he got involved under duress after he and his family were threatened with violence.