Grand jury indicts 7 from the Ozarks in large-scale meth conspiracy

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release) – Seven from the Ozarks are among 15 defendants indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a large-scale methamphetamine conspiracy that involved multi-pound shipments of methamphetamine transported from Arizona to Missouri.

Gregory L. Hopper, 34, and Amanda L. Robinson, 27, both of Springfield, Mo.; Leslie T. Ray, 49, and Melissa D. Melencamp, 42, both of Branson, Mo.; Olivia L. Fluke, 34, of Reeds Spring, Mo.; Jason C. Brookshire, 37, of Aurora, Mo.; Manual Edgardo Cortez, also known as “Manny,” 44, Mel Chevez Arnold, 57, Estelle E. Lawson, 50, and George G. Galaz, Jr., 45, all of Tuscon, Ariz.; Christopher K. Perez, also known as “Wombat,” 31, of Silver City, N.M.; Jedediah L. Selke, 44, of Silver City, N.M.; Diandre Valentine, 32, of Chicago, Ill.; Daniel D. Rhea, 32, of Naples, Texas; Joshua S. Speakes, 39, of Mountain Home, Ark.; were charged in a 12-count superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., on Thursday, May 9. This superseding indictment replaces a March 26, 2019, indictment that charged only Cortez and Arnold.

The federal indictment alleges that all 15 defendants participated in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in Greene, Christian, Polk, and Taney counties from June 2017 to March 18, 2019.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the original criminal complaint, the investigation began when law enforcement officers seized nearly two pounds of methamphetamine, allegedly supplied by Cortez, from a Radisson Hotel room in Branson. Cortez allegedly used couriers to transport multi-pound loads of methamphetamine from Arizona to Branson. On several of those trips, says the affidavit, couriers transported 15-pound loads of methamphetamine.

Task Force Officer Richard Leslie, of the Christian County Sheriff's Office, led the investigation. Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole says the illegal drug operation has been going on for months, involving drugs that originally came from across the southern border.

"We get pounds and pounds of illegal drugs right here in Southwest Missouri coming directly from Mexico. Obviously, any time we can take any drugs off the street, that's an accomplishment for us, but we are talking about several pounds of drugs in this particular investigation," Sheriff Cole said.

On Feb. 20, 2019, Arizona state troopers seized approximately eight pounds of methamphetamine from Arnold during a traffic stop near Phoenix, the affidavit says. The methamphetamine allegedly was supplied by Cortez and destined for Springfield.

In addition to the drug-trafficking conspiracy, Hopper, Robinson, Ray, Melencamp, Fluke, Valentine, Rhea, and Galaz are charged in individual counts related to the distribution of methamphetamine.

Hopper and Robinson are also charged together in one count of possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. They allegedly possessed 15 firearms – including four assault rifles, 10 handguns and a shotgun – on Feb. 21, 2019.

Speakes is also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Abram McGull II. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HIS); the Branson, Mo., Police Department; the Christian County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department; the Ozark, Mo., Police Department; the Springfield, Mo., Police Department; the Missouri State Highway Patrol; the Silver City, N.M., Police Department; and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.