- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A man serving 25 years to life for a drug-related killing has been sentenced to 50 years in federal prison for running an eastern Montana drug ring from a California prison using smuggled cellphones.

U.S. District Judge Susan Watters sentenced Jason Neel of Taft, California, on Wednesday. Neel, 32, earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Watters ordered the federal term to run concurrently with Neel’s second-degree murder sentence and recommended he be transferred to federal custody. She noted that while in prison in California Neel smuggled in weapons, drugs and cellphones and overdosed on heroin, The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/1QRBfTD) reported. While incarcerated, Neel and another person stabbed an inmate 12 times, prosecutor Brendan McCarthy said.

“It doesn’t say much for the California prison system,” Watters said.

Neel was sentenced to prison for the drug-related killing of a woman when he was 22, defense attorney Jessica Fehr said.

“Neel is no angel, and never has been. However, in his own words, he did what he had to do to survive in prison,” she said. “In his world, that meant smuggling in cellphones, distributing drugs and sending money home to family. It also meant buying protection when necessary and asserting himself through violence to survive.”

Fehr asked that Neel be moved to a federal prison for his own protection and closer monitoring.

Neel is among the last to be sentenced in the case that alleged many pounds of meth were brought into Billings and Roundup for distribution locally and in the Bakken oil fields from September 2013 to March 2014. Neel’s mother, Catherine Sue Neel, and his girlfriend, Desiree Jimenez, - both from Taft, California - were each sentenced to a year in prison for sending drugs to Montana on Jason Neel’s behalf.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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