Pope County men sentenced to prison on federal drug trafficking charges

Two Pope County men were sentenced to federal prison Tuesday in connection with their admitted involvement in a large-scale methamphetamine and fentanyl trafficking ring run by a Faulkner County man.

Blake Kriesel, 28, of Dover, and Zachary Chaney, 36, of Atkins, were sentenced to prison terms of 10 years and 15 years, respectively, by Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., for their involvement in distributing methamphetamine and fentanyl for Kyle Harris, 33, of Conway. Both men had pleaded guilty in 2022 before Marshall to one count each of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and fentanyl, Chaney on Aug. 1 and Kriesel on Aug. 22.

Chaney, who has two prior felony drug convictions and could have faced as much as 27 years, 6 months on each count as a career offender under U.S. sentencing guidelines, pleaded guilty in exchange for the dismissal of three drug distribution counts and two firearms counts and a 15-year prison sentence. Marshall also ordered Chaney to serve 10 years on supervised release when he leaves prison.

Kriesel was ordered to serve five years' supervised release after he leaves prison.

Both men faced a minimum term of 10 years and a maximum term of life in prison under U.S. sentencing statutes.

According to court records, an investigation in mid-2021 revealed that Kyle Harris was a multi-kilogram dealer of methamphetamine and distributed thousands of fentanyl pills, and that Chaney was a major distributor for Harris. A series of controlled buys, according to court records, implicated Chaney and Kriesel along with other co-defendants.

On July 24, 2021, records said, law enforcement was contacted by a woman who reported that Chaney had drugs, including fentanyl, at a hotel and a storage building in Russellville. After Chaney encountered investigators at the hotel, records said, he admitted to staying there and gave investigators information about his storage locker. In his room, police found 422 fentanyl pills, 2 cell phones, and 49.5 grams of methamphetamine, records said.

In Chaney's storage unit, investigators located marijuana, methamphetamine, oxycodone pills, clonazepam pills, alprazolam, and suboxone strips. They also found fentanyl pills hidden inside a package of fruit snacks.

According to his plea agreement, Chaney admitted that he had been involved in the drug trade since approximately April or May through July 2021. He admitted that when his brother and co-defendant Benjamin Taylor, 34, of Atkins, was arrested, he went to Taylor's house and obtained 500 fentanyl pills that police missed and sold them to pay Harris $10,500 that Taylor owed. Harris offered to provide Chaney with 1,000 fentanyl pills at a time for $10,000 on credit. Harris, according to court records, then began providing Chaney with 1,000 to 2,000 fentanyl pills at a time that were sealed inside fruit snack boxes.

Following his arrest, records said, Kriesel admitted that he was distributing controlled substances during the course of the conspiracy, including five occasions involving ounce quantities of methamphetamine, and smaller quantities at other times. He acknowledged having access to multiple pounds of methamphetamine through co-defendant Clara Helms, who he said often set up the narcotics transactions. Kriesel admitted to investigators that he accompanied Helms to obtain pound quantities of methamphetamine from the Northeast Arkansas area.

On Nov. 14, Marshall sentenced Harris to 17 years in prison. He also sentenced three of his co-defendants, Helms, Joseph Davis, 52, and Armando Luna, 28, all of Russellville, to prison terms ranging from 98 months to 15 years. Still awaiting sentencing is Taylor.

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