Friends, family and clients of Nick Meng’s lawn-care business — including former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson — vouched for Meng’s reliability and hard-working nature. They described Meng as someone who can be an asset to the community and who has been working to become one over the past two years.
In contrast, law enforcement officials said Meng spent much of 2011 manufacturing illegal party drugs and enlisting the help of 17- and 18-year-olds to distribute the substances; one stole materials for Meng from a Cody High School chemistry lab.
Skar described Meng as a kind of an anomaly: a repeat drug dealer with no addiction problem, a good personal support system and the best business sense the judge had ever seen.
“I have to conclude from all this that this is not just a mistake. This is a calculated scheme,” Skar said during a Dec. 6 sentencing hearing. “You found a way of making some easy money, and you were going to do it.”
Meng’s attorney, Brigita Krisjansons of Cody, had asked for probation, while Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Sam Krone — in an unusually stiff request — asked for 18 to 22 years of prison time.
Skar instead sentenced Meng to six to 10 years in prison, five years of supervised probation, fined him $35,000 and ordered him to pay nearly $1,000 in court assessments on five felony charges.
Meng’s distribution scheme fell apart in late January 2012 when one of his customers in Utah tipped off police.
When Meng arrived in Summit County, Utah, on Feb. 2, 2012, — carrying 1,000 pills he’d represented as ecstasy and a gallon of another party-type drug, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) — he was arrested by police.
Sara Meng, 25, allegedly went with her husband to help deliver the gallon of GHB to Utah and has been charged with delivering the controlled substance. She has pleaded not guilty.
Cody police searched the Mengs’ 22nd Street residence shortly after their Utah arrest and found needles, syringes, vials, a chemistry set, a pill press, annotated drug recipes and records of money transfers. They also seized close to 91 grams of three types of illegal or prescription-only steroids and 4.5 grams of GHB in powdered form.
The pills seized in Utah turned out to be caffeine pills and not the ecstasy Meng had agreed to deliver. But Cody Police Detective Sgt. Jon Beck said that’s because police had disrupted Meng’s plans by seizing a shipment of nearly 500 grams of methylone — a substance similar to ecstasy — bound for Meng’s home from a supplier in China.
The detective said from his understanding, 500 grams of methylone “is a pretty substantial amount” and a gallon of GHB is “an extremely large quantity” when a dose is just a couple drops.
GHB is odorless, colorless and can knock someone out if more than a couple drops are used. Those qualities mean it can be used to facilitate “date rape,” though Meng and two of his distributors testified they had it only to feel drunk with no hangover.
Meng said the first time he heard the substance could be used for sexual assaults was after local media dubbed the case against him and his wife, Sara, the “date rape case.” He said hearing that made him feel sick.
Judge Skar told Meng his intent didn’t matter in distributing the GHB since “you have no control over it once you sell it.”
“You don’t know what has happened to people as a result of your distribution of this drug,” Skar added. He said Meng did know it was being distributed to young people and profited.
Garrett Sides had been a Cody High School senior and assisted one of the school’s chemistry teachers at the time.
“I had access to them (materials in the supply room) without anyone knowing and I would just take some out of the bottles,” Sides, now 20, testified at the Dec. 6 hearing.
Sides gave Meng the materials and Meng gave him the finished products to sell to other high schoolers.
“If I couldn’t afford them (the drugs), they’d be fronted to me, and then I’d pay them back when I could, after I sold them,” Sides said.
Guy McClure, who also recalled selling methylone and GHB to his 17- to 18-year-old friends for Meng, described becoming indebted a couple times, at one point paying Meng back with a gun.
Now 20, McClure recalled going to a couple raves in Denver where he and others would sell Meng’s substances among the crowd of dancers.
Beck said his investigation indicates Meng was making sales of various drugs in Billings and Utah. The GHB, he said, was typically packaged in emptied bottles of 5-hour Energy.
McClure and Sides said Meng was not the one who first introduced them to drugs and that he never forced the substances on them. However, both also described their time with Meng as low points in their lives — where their relationships with family and other friends suffered due to their drug use.
Meng apologized to both young men — who haven’t been charged with crimes — in his statement to the court. Meng said he wished he’d been a better example and friend.
“I am truly sorry for the hurt that I caused them in their lives,” Meng said. He made similar apologies to his friends, family members, law enforcement, the judge and clients of his lawn care business.
“I take full responsibility for what I did, and there is no excuse for my actions,” Meng said.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I never thought what I was doing would bring me to this,” he added. “This whole situation happened so fast, within a period of six months.”
Meng said he’d been bored and wanted “to be the cool person and have people like me,” but now wishes he could take back what he did.
Meng’s stepfather, Cody businessman Jerry Payne, said he’d seen an acceptance of responsibility and a 180-degree change in his step son’s life since the arrest.
“He has really shown to me an attitude of wanting to serve other people as a way to kind of make up to the community for any harm that he might have done to the community,” Payne said. He asked for a long period of supervised probation and a stiff fine, which he said would be more rehabilitative than prison time.
Alan Simpson, the former senator and a Meng lawn care customer, made a similar request.
“I’ll tell you, 18 or 20 years in the clink for this guy, is not only a loss to him, but is a loss to society. There must be a better way,” Simpson said.
Krisjansons, Meng’s attorney, said he approached all his lawn care clients after his 2012 arrest, apologized and asked if they still wanted his services. Many customers wrote letters of support to Judge Skar.
Krisjansons said with all the media coverage of the case and Meng’s well-known family and lawn service clients, it would have been easy for Meng to “disappear under a rock.”
“What Nick Meng did instead speaks volumes, your honor, to his character and his potential to be a productive member of the Park County community,” Krisjansons said.
She blasted Krone’s recommendation of 18 to 22 years. As she noted, the Park County Attorney’s Office hasn’t requested such a stiff sentence in a drug case in recent memory and agreed to lesser sentences for an armed robbery in Powell a year ago (15 to 17 years) and an August 2012 incident where a teenage drug dealer opened fire on a partner in a Cody alleyway (15 to 17 years).
“They’re asking for more in this case. Not only is it inconsistent, your honor, it’s absurd,” Krisjansons said. “We’re not talking heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, we’re talking designer drugs that yes, have the potential to be dangerous, but so does alcohol, your honor, so does cigarettes, so does everything else.”
Deputy Park County Sam Krone said the comparisons were inappropriate. He noted the large quantities of drugs involved, that the actions came despite a strong support system and that Meng was already given a second chance — receiving a deferred prosecution in Utah for growing marijuana in 2008.
“When you’re talking about making money, your honor, and you’re talking about going out and doing that and you use, as your foot soldiers, high school kids to distribute this poison into our community, those have to be taken very seriously,” Krone said.
Skar ultimately imposed the six to 10 years and probation. That’s addition to a six-month jail term Meng faces in Summit County, Utah.
After Skar pronounced the sentence, Meng was immediately taken into custody and shuttled to the Park County Detention Center to await transport to the Wyoming penitentiary.