Pubdate: Tue, 09 Mar 2004
Source: La Crosse Tribune (WI)
Copyright: 2004, The La Crosse Tribune
Author: Kevin Murphy


MADISON - One of two men involved in bringing 3,000 pounds of marijuana to 
the La Crosse area during the past five years for shipment to Minnesota was 
sentenced in federal court Monday to more than 11 years in prison.

Gale F. Kleman, 51, of Sleepy Eye, Minn., was sentenced Monday to 11 years 
and two months, and Ralph M. Villegas, 48, of El Paso, Texas, was sentenced 
last week to seven years and three months. Villegas also was ordered to 
forfeit $500,000 in assets he acquired from the sale of drugs.

The seizure of 650 pounds of marijuana Sept. 4 from a warehouse on North 
Star Road in Holmen, Wis., is the largest drug recovery to date by federal 
authorities for the Western District of Wisconsin, said U.S. Attorney J.B. 
Van Hollen.

After their arrest last year, two drivers working for the Galindo drug 
organization in New Mexico began cooperating with U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Agency personnel investigating the scope of trafficking operations, said 
Villegas' attorney, David Mandell.

The drivers told investigators they were regularly moving large amounts to 
Wisconsin, beginning in 1998.

Investigators learned that Villegas was the source of the marijuana, which 
he arranged to be delivered to Jeffrey Laufle in La Crosse, said Assistant 
U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman. Laufle then turned over the marijuana to 
Kleman, who distributed it mainly in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

A shipment that did not reach Holmen caused Villegas to go to the La Crosse 
area to ensure that the Sept. 4 load arrived at Laufle's warehouse, Mandell 

The load actually was flown by DEA staff to Madison and then trucked to 
Holmen, where it was met by Laufle, Villegas and Kleman. The three men were 
arrested at the warehouse. Agents recovered from Villegas a listing of the 
package numbers and a marking pen allegedly used to write the weights on 
each bale of marijuana, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Laufle, who has since sold the warehouse and given the proceeds to the 
federal government, is expected to be charged in connection with the 
trafficking either in state or federal court, Altman said.

Kleman's attorney, Eric Newmark of Minneapolis, sought a sentence for his 
client similar to the sentence for Villegas. Newmark noted that Kleman 
apparently wasn't as culpable as Villegas since Kleman hadn't accumulated a 
comparable amount of assets. Also, Kleman had no prior felony convictions - 
just two driving while intoxicated misdemeanors and one misdemeanor theft.

Although Kleman might not the "major player" Villegas was, he still was 
found responsible for moving 1,433 kilograms of marijuana, Altman said.

"That's a huge amount of drug he brought into the area and warrants a 
substantial sentence," she said.

District Judge John Shabaz said Kleman's two DWI convictions were serious 
offenses and prevented Kleman from qualifying for the sentence-reducing 
"safety valve" factor, which allows first-time drug offenders to escape 
serious penalties.

Mandell also sought leniency for his client, arguing that Villegas even 
paid federal taxes on his drug profits, listing them as "other" income on 
tax forms. Although he allowed the government to seize his cash, homes, 
vehicles and some valuable collections, his drug profit only provided the 
"seed money" he used to successfully invest in the stock market and gamble, 
Mandell said.
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