Kip Hill / The Spokesman-Review
Three young men took their turns Wednesday apologizing to their families, victims and a federal judge for their roles in furthering a criminal enterprise that spilled drugs and firearms into North Idaho, Eastern Washington and beyond.
Then U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice sentenced them collectively to more than 56 years in federal prison, calling their behavior “egregious” and suggesting their plea agreements were too lenient.
“This is a huge deviation, in my mind,” said Rice, before handing down a 20-year sentence to Hunter O’Mealy, 19. Rice also sentenced Caleb Carr, 23, to 20 years in prison and a third member of the group that called themselves the “Fetty Bros,” Matthew Gudino-Pena, 22, to a little more than 16 years in prison.
The three men had been charged with multiple federal offenses tied to the distribution of the illicit drug fentanyl purchased and sold via social media apps from Mexico. They each pleaded guilty instead to conspiracy to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl.
O’Mealy and Carr trafficked the illicit pills and other drugs to Washington and Idaho, including supplying the drugs that have been linked to the overdose death in May 2021 of a 15-year-old high school freshman in Coeur d’Alene.
Prosecutors played in court a body camera video of the first responder who tried to revive the 15-year-old. His body was splayed on the ground, and he wasn’t breathing, even as the first responder began chest compressions.
“They came to a point where they knew they were killing people,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Barker, prior to sentencing.
Another user was shot and killed during an apparent drug deal gone bad involving drugs supplied by the organization, prosecutors allege.
Family members of O’Mealy and Carr filled three rows of seats in Rice’s courtroom on Wednesday afternoon. Those who spoke described young men who accepted responsibility for their actions and said their age and use of social media demonstrated their youth and that they should be given a chance to improve themselves. They asked Rice to sentence them to shorter terms of imprisonment than the 20 years, arguing they’d been drawn in by Mexican drug cartels to sell the drugs in America.
“They used my son, and once he realized what he was in, it seemed there was no practical way out of that,” said Carie Heistand, Carr’s mother.
“I’m grateful my son was caught,” said Todd O’Mealy, Hunter O’Mealy’s father, also telling Rice that the family was looking into a drug treatment program in Utah to send their son to just before his arrest.
“I’m just thankful I’m alive today,” Hunter O’Mealy told Rice.
Searches of property in Washington and Arizona yielded more than 12,800 grams, or roughly 28 pounds, of fentanyl, along with cocaine, marijuana and other drugs. Authorities also seized firearms that had been modified to be fully automatic, and a confidential source provided text messages discussing a shooting in Lakewood in September 2021 that paralyzed the victim from the waist down and left him with a collapsed lung.
In the messages, which were turned over to law enforcement by the informant who was asked to make them “invisible” to authorities, Carr identified Gudino-Pena and O’Mealy as the shooters and said they were motivated by the belief that the victim was working with police.
Barker read a statement from the shooting victim in court.
“I am done with you,” the victim wrote in the statement read by Barker. “When you wake up every morning in federal prison, know that I will not be thinking of you.”
The men fled to Arizona after the shooting, according to investigators, and made threats to kill Jamie Bellovich, a woman who was seen driving Carr to a meeting to sell pills at a restaurant in downtown Spokane in August 2021. They believed Bellovich was also cooperating with investigators.
Bellovich pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in May and is scheduled for a separate sentencing hearing later this month. After an alleged violation of the terms of her release from jail prior to sentencing, prosecutors asked a judge Wednesday to place her in custody until that hearing.
David Partovi, the attorney representing Gudino-Pena, said his client accepted responsibility for his role in the scheme, what prosecutors described as being a “security detail” for the other two men. But, Partovi said, Gudino-Pena did not begin participating until August 2021, several months into the scheme unraveled by investigators after the death of the teenager in Idaho.
“I have a lot of family that’s not here,” Gudino-Pena told Rice. “It’s been that way a long time.”
“I did what I did,” he also told Rice, saying he’d accept whatever sentence Rice imposed.
Sandy Baggett, the attorney representing Carr, questioned why authorities didn’t intervene sooner as they were building a case against her client.
“They had multiple opportunities to arrest them, and they didn’t,” Baggett said.
Stephanie Van Marter, an assistant U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, said that was inaccurate. Authorities were building a case over several months, she said, and the full scope of the enterprise wasn’t known until investigators started piecing together Snapchat videos provided by their confidential source.
“When we could get them in one location, it wasn’t all of them,” Van Marter said.
U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref said the work of prosecutors and investigative agencies in the case created “a community that is safer and stronger,” in a statement after the sentencing.
“Although the consequences of large-scale drug distribution are apparent in many cases, this case in particular presents egregious violence, alien smuggling, use of the mail to distribute 10,000s of fentanyl-laced pills, firearms trafficking, threats, use of social media to advertise illegal narcotics, and obstruction of justice,” Waldref said in the statement.
Baggett and Mark Vovos, who spoke on behalf of O’Mealy, argued that as a result of their plea deals, the two would not be eligible for time reductions on their federal sentences that were contained in a 2018 criminal justice reform law. That law prohibited offenders serving time for fentanyl or heroin offenses from being included in a program that reduces their time in prison, meaning that Rice’s sentence must be served in its entirety.
Rice encouraged each defendant to make good use of their time in custody before leaving the bench. They were led away from the courtroom in handcuffs.
“This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force NINE, located in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho which includes members of the DEA, Idaho State Police, United States Postal Inspection Service, Coeur d’Alene Police Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and United States Border Patrol,” according to a news release from the Justice Department. “A number of agencies further assisted with the investigation, including Spokane DEA, the Lakewood Police Department, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, Liberty Lake Police Department, Medford Police Department, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office, Centralia Police Department, Chehalis Police Department, Shoshone County Sherriff’s Office, Washington Department of Corrections, United States Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DEA Centralia Post of Duty, and certain DEA Task Forces: JNET, Tucson Strike Force, and Phoenix Group 16 DEALERS.