SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Five men pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday and Friday on drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges for their role in an international marijuana-smuggling conspiracy. The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Matt M. Dummermuth, Northern District of Iowa. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigated the case, which originated from a northern border drug seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Jeffrey Kopp, 53, of Marion, Iowa; Michael Breneman, 55, of Maquoketa, Iowa; and David Downing, 32, of Vancouver, Canada, each pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possessing with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, and to conspiring to commit money laundering. Daniel Berger, 41, of Hinsdale, Ill., and Azar Niekamp, 31, of Vancouver, Canada, each pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and possessing with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.
At the plea hearing, each defendant admitted his involvement in a marijuana smuggling conspiracy that occurred from 2005 through May 18, 2007, in which high-quality marijuana was smuggled from Canada for distribution in the United States. The investigation began when CBP officers in Pembina, N.D., seized 600 pounds of marijuana hidden in the walls of a refrigerator trailer as the trailer was entering the United States. The marijuana was intended to be delivered to Kopp and Breneman in Iowa.
ICE agents executed "controlled deliveries" of the marijuana to Kopp and Breneman in Delaware County, Iowa; and to Downing, Niekamp and Berger in Chicago. Records show the conspiracy involved more than 8,000 pounds of marijuana, and more than $3.5 million in illicit drug proceeds.
Sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett has been set for May 27 and 28 in Sioux City, Iowa. Breneman, Kopp and Downing each face sentences of 10 years to life in federal prison, a $4,000 fine, $200 in special assessments, and five years to life on supervised release following any prison term. Berger and Niekamp each face five to 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole, a $2,000 fine, $100 in special assessments, and five years to life on supervised release following any prison term.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Reinert, Northern District of Iowa. It was investigated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program of the U.S. Department of Justice through the cooperative efforts of ICE and the DEA Task Force.