Butte-Silver Bow prosecutors have dropped the most serious charge facing a local mental health counselor 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.
That's because the client — 33-year-old Aimee Hardesty — has since died.
Prosecutors had charged Dana Trandahl with two felonies in June 2016, one of them criminal distribution of dangerous drugs for allegedly giving Hardesty opiate pain killers and other prescription drugs to plant. That charge carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.
But Deputy County Attorney Ann Shea said Thursday that charge was dropped because they no longer had a witness.
That witness — Hardesty — died March 25. Her death was investigated and ruled as a “seizure disorder” of unknown causes by the Butte-Silver Bow Coroner’s Office.
Trandahl, 54, still faces a felony count of solicitation of criminal possession of dangerous drugs, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence, and a newly filed misdemeanor charge of violating a protective order.
The new charge accuses Trandahl of violating a protective order by parking across the street from Hardesty’s workplace in August 2016 — about two months after initial charges were filed.
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 pleaded not guilty to the amended charges Thursday before District Court Judge Kurt Krueger. He set the next hearing for Jan. 4 but said a trial will probably be pushed back, at least until next March.
The first trial date was set for this past May, but Trandahl’s attorney at the time —Matthew Johnson — asked for a delay given Hardesty’s death. He said it raised new questions, including Trandahl’s right to confront a key witness.
Then in September, Johnson filed a motion to quit the case, saying he and his client had a “complete breakdown in communication and disagreement as to the direction of the case.” Trandahl’s attorney is now Stephanie Gehres Kruer.
Trandahl has been free on $100,000 bond since she was arrested and charged in May 2016.
She is accused of trying to get Hardesty to plant meth 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.
According to prosecutors, 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.
Police got 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 can be heard telling Hardesty to “spill the methamphetamine all over the inside of Pat Ryan’s car,” according to charging documents.
Prosecutors say Trandahl had given money to Hardesty to purchase the meth and also told her to mail envelopes containing it to Dick.
They also alleged Trandahl gave Hardesty hydrocodone, an opiate pain killer; Tramadol, a narcotic; and Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety medication, so they could be placed in Ryan’s car. But the charge related specifically to that has now been dropped.