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Morales sentenced in federal court

By Staff | Mar 25, 2009

Another conspirator in a Sisterville-centered methamphetamine distribution ring was sentenced in Federal Court March 10.

Jessie Morales, 36, of Buckeye, Ariz., was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment to be followed by a term of five years of supervised release for his role in a methamphetamine organization responsible for the distribution of drugs.

Morales was convicted on Dec. 6, 2008, following a five-day trial for one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine from January 2003 to March 9, 2007, in Sistersville; one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise from early 2003 to March 9, 2007, from Sistersville to Phoenix, Ariz., and Ascension, Mexico; and, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering from January of 2003 to Oct. 10, 2006.

Morales was identified as a source of supply for meth for a multi-state organization, which was headed by James Martin Snyder, 54, of Sistersville. Following Snyder’s move from northeast Ohio to Sistersville in January of 2003, he and his associates began importing multi-pounds of methamphetamine from two sources of supply in Phoenix, Ariz., including Morales.

The entire multi-million dollar operation took place out of Snyder’s Sistersville home. Snyder bought the meth in bulk and used Morales and others to transport the product to Sistersville. From Sistersville the product was distributed to the rest of West Virginia, plus Ohio and Florida. Co-conspirators at trial testified that between 2003 and 2006 the group distributed at least 200 pounds of meth, with a street value in excess of $6 million.

Both Morales and Carlos Bernal, 47, of Phoenix, Ariz., served as suppliers for Snyder. Snyder would send Wayne Prinkey Jr., 50; Richard Graner, 48; and Dan Dello, 50, to Arizona with cash to bring back more meth. John Keller Jr., of Sistersville, helped Snyder hide sealed PVC pipes on nearby property as a hiding spot for meth and cash. Snyder used James Jury, 50, to hold thousands of dollars in drug money, which he would send out upon request. Mark “Country” Cunningham, 47, formerly of Pleasants and Tyler counties, served as a meth dealer and go-between for Snyder, while Jerry Cottrill, 63, of St. Marys, laundered drug money for Snyder.

The organization began to unravel on April 11, 2006, when Prinkey was arrested following a traffic stop in Canadian County, Okla., while he was transporting 11 pounds of meth that the group had just purchased in Phoenix for $140,000. A week later, Snyder’s Sistersville residence was searched and police found $52,075 of drug proceeds, methamphetamine and several “owe sheets” reflecting thousands of dollars of drug debts owed the group.

Shortly after, with the help of Morales, Snyder fled the country to Mexico. Before fleeing he approached Cottrill with $70,000. Snyder then ordered Cunningham to pick up a truck and the rest of the money from Cottrill. While transporting Snyder’s four-wheeler and air conditioner to Arizona, Cunningham wrecked outside of Zanesville, Ohio. Snyder was soon returned to U.S. custody.

Once in custody, the entire operation fell apart and all co-conspirators were arrested, excluding Bernal. Those arrested were Snyder, Snyder’s girlfriend Gloria Payne, Morales, Dello, Keller, Jury, Graner, Prinkey, Cunningham, and Cottrill. During the investigation, police seized, in addition to the meth, approximately $240,000 of drug proceeds and 56 acres which Snyder owned in Sistersville.

Snyder pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of meth and was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. As a part of his plea deal, all charges were dropped against Payne.

Jury pled guilty to conspiracy to engage in interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise and was sentenced to 51 months in prison. Keller pled guilty to one count of trafficking meth and was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Dello pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute 50 grams of meth and was sentenced to eight years and one month in federal prison.

Cunningham, Cottrill, Prinkey, and Graner were not included in the government’s original indictment, but were linked to the operation.

Cunningham pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate travel in aid of a racketeering enterprise and was sentenced to 51 months in prison. Graner pled in Oklahoma to a charge of possession with intent to deliver meth and was given five years probation. Prinkey is serving a 25-year sentence in Florida for pleading to second-degree murder, armed burglary and attempted first-degree murder unrelated to the Snyder case.

Only Cottrill has yet to be sentenced. He pled guilty to money laundering.

Assistant United States Attorney John C. Parr prosecuted the case.