Prosecutors have dropped the remaining felony charge against a mental health counselor in Butte accused of trying to get a client to plant meth and other drugs in the cars of the counselor’s ex-husband and his wife.
The lead prosecutor said Monday that she agreed to dismiss the charge against Dana Trandahl late last week because the client, 33-year-old Aimee Hardesty, died in March, 2017 after the case had been filed.
That meant Trandahl could not exercise her constitutional rights to confront and question her accuser, said Deputy County Attorney Ann Shea.
Shea said prosecutors have no indication that Trandahl had anything to do with Hardesty’s death, which the Butte-Silver Bow Coroner’s Office ruled was caused by a seizure disorder.
Trandahl’s attorney, Stephanie Kruer of Sheridan, said her client did not do any of the things prosecutors alleged. Even though Hardesty’s death was a key factor in charges being dismissed, Kruer said Trandahl was completely innocent.
“They were alleging money was provided — there was no money,” Kruer told The Montana Standard on Monday. “They said drugs had been provided. There were no drugs. There was no evidence any of that happened.”
Prosecutors dismissed the remaining felony charge — solicitation of criminal possession of dangerous drugs — late last week as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with Trandahl. The charge carries a possible penalty of five years in prison.
They also dropped a misdemeanor charge of violating a protective order, but can refile it if Trandahl does not comply with recommendations in a mental-health assessment or meet other conditions over the next year.
Hardesty’s mother, Nancy Linton of Butte, filed a civil lawsuit against Trandahl in February saying she caused her daughter severe mental and emotional distress by trying to coerce her to plant drugs on others.
The lawsuit is pending and seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages. There was no response on file Monday at the Clerk of Court's Office and Kruer said she did not know who was representing Trandahl in that civil case.
Prosecutors initially charged Trandahl with felony counts of solicitation of criminal possession of dangerous drugs and criminal distribution of dangerous drugs. The latter carries a maximum of life in prison.
She was accused of trying to get Hardesty to plant meth and prescription opiates and other drugs in the cars of her ex-husband, Pat Ryan, and his wife, and mail meth to Ryan’s lawyer, Tim Dick, in May 2016. Ryan and Trandahl had been in a custody battle for nine years.
Hardesty told police she received counseling from Trandahl and was on probation for a felony. She suggested that Trandahl was threatening to cause trouble with her probation officer if she didn’t follow through on planting the drugs.
Butte police obtained a search warrant that allowed Hardesty to wear a transmitting device and on May 26, she recorded a conversation with Trandahl.
At one point, Trandahl could be heard telling Hardesty to “spill the methamphetamine all over the inside of Pat Ryan’s car,” according to charging documents.
Trandahl was arrested, freed on $100,000 bail and later pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After Hardesty died, prosecutors dropped the most serious felony charge against her because they no longer had a witness. But they did not dismiss the other felony until last week.
While the case was pending, they filed a new misdemeanor charge accusing Trandahl of violating a protective order by parking across the street from Hardesty’s workplace in August 2016.
The order prohibited Trandahl from being within 1,500 feet of Hardesty’s workplace, but Hardesty and a friend told police that when they spotted Trandahl, she sped off.
Trandahl denied that accusation, too. A court motion she filed said there was no evidence she even knew where Hardesty worked.
Shea said under the agreement, prosecutors can refile that charge if Trandahl violates any federal, state or local laws or fails to meet other conditions over the next year.
Even though police obtained a taped conversation with Trandahl, Shea said, she still has a right to confront her accuser and that was now impossible.
Kruer said her client was innocent of all accusations and she had filed numerous motions in the case, including one noting a constitutional right to confront accusers and another to suppress evidence.
One said there was a “complete lack of evidence to support the charges.”
“No actual crime was committed,” it said. “None of the purported hundreds of dollars provided to Hardesty were recovered. Despite executed warrants to search Ms. Trandahl, her home, her business office, and her two vehicles, no evidence of criminal activity was found.”
Kruer said Trandahl was still licensed by the state to practice mental health counseling and was looking forward to getting on with her life.
“It is rewarding to know that justice can still be served in this type of situation,” Kruer said. “It is very hard on the person to be taken through the legal process for a couple of years only to have a dismissal in the end. You have lost ground and it is very hard on people.”
Nevertheless, Kruer said she was pleased with the final outcome.