Former Montana Republican House Majority Leader Michael David Lange of Billings, who once told the governor to go to hell, admitted on Tuesday to trafficking several pounds of meth as part of a large drug conspiracy.
Appearing before U.S. District Judge Susan Watters in Billings, Lange, 57, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess meth for distribution and to possession with intent to distribute. There was no plea agreement.
Lange faces a minimum mandatory 10 years to life in prison and a maximum fine of $10 million on each count.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan said Lange in interviews with law enforcement officers admitted to getting about 20 pounds of meth through his co-defendant, Jose Soltero, and distributing it to others.
Lange, Sullivan said, distributed meth from about April to October 2016. Drug task force agents got information in September that Lange was trafficking, he said. And at about the same time, agents in Wyoming conducted a buy operation and learned from others that Lange was their main supplier in Billings and that a woman identified as Sherry Murphy was his main distributor.
Agents executed a search warrant of Lange’s house on Oct. 11 and found more than 2.5 pounds of meth along with cocaine and $27,400 in U.S. currency, Sullivan said.
Soltero, who was convicted and is awaiting sentencing, admitted to arranging about eight drug deals between Lange and people in California, Sullivan said.
Lange admitted to getting about 20 pounds of meth through Soltero, the prosecutor said. Lange told agents that 17 pounds went to Murphy for redistribution and that he sold the remaining three pounds, he said.
Murphy was indicted separately, convicted and is awaiting sentencing.
Lange’s attorney, Ashley Harada of Billings, disagreed that Lange was the source of supply for Wyoming individuals and that while agents found drugs in his home, Lange was unaware that Soltero had brought them to his residence.
Lange told the judge that he has a previous felony drug conviction and a drunken driving conviction in California from 2013. He served eight months of a 16-month sentencing before being released for good behavior, he said.
Lange said he is single, is a pipefitter and welder and is working for a contractor at the ExxonMobil Refinery.
Watters set sentencing for Jan. 18 and continued Lange’s release.
While serving in the 2007 Legislature, Lange was captured on video swearing at then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Lange called the Democratic governor a dictator and said he could “go straight to hell.”
Republicans later removed Lange from his leadership position. About the same time, Lange and his wife were forced to refinance their house to pay more than $77,000 to a bank that had foreclosed on their Billings smoothie business, called Jus’ Chillin’.
In 2008, Lange was among five Republicans who ran to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. Lange placed second to Butte attorney Bob Kelleher in the primary.