Pubdate: 6 August 1999
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 1999, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Contact:  414-224-8280
Author: Kevin Murphy, Special to the Journal Sentinel


Madison - A Minnesota man who was part of the largest methamphetamine
distribution conspiracy in western Wisconsin was sentenced in federal
court Thursday to more than 10 years in prison.

Peter Ramirez of South St. Paul, Minn., pleaded guilty earlier this
year to buying and selling meth and cocaine in the conspiracy headed
by Paul Hotchkiss of Diamond Bluff in 1994 and 1995.

A federal grand jury in August 1995 indicted Ramirez, Hotchkiss and
nine others in what was the largest group of defendants prosecuted in
a drug conspiracy case for the federal court district that serves
western Wisconsin. A total of 26 police agencies in Wisconsin and
Minnesota were involved in the investigation into the drug ring.

After being indicted, Ramirez fled Minnesota for Colorado, where he
remarried and remained a fugitive until he was apprehended last year
by U.S. marshals in Oregon. Ramirez came to Madison earlier this year
and pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge, Assistant U.S.
Attorney Larry Wszalek said.

Ramirez sold about 50 ounces of cocaine and 25 ounces of
methamphetamines to three other members of the conspiracy.

Hotchkiss was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the longest sentence
imposed on any of the conspiracy members. Jose Montoya, suspected of
being the group's primary cocaine supplier, remains a fugitive and the
only alleged member of the conspiracy not to have been convicted.

In March, Attorney General James Doyle and U.S. Attorney Peggy
Lautenschlager announced a major effort to stem what they described as
"an epidemic" of methamphetamine use and trafficking along Wisconsin's
western border.

Nine counties reported a rise in meth cases: Crawford, Grant, Green
and Lafayette in the state's southwestern corner; Green Lake in the
east-central part of the state; Douglas in the far north; and Pierce,
Polk and St. Croix in western Wisconsin.

State and federal officials began a major crackdown on
methamphetamine, often known as "crank," last fall after several
northwestern Wisconsin counties reported increased problems with the

The crackdown announced by the two included increasing the number of
state agents trained to handle meth cases, holding regional training
sessions for local police throughout western Wisconsin and assigning a
state prosecutor to assist local authorities with meth cases in state
and federal courts.
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