HELENA - A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday sentenced Billings businesswoman Dru Cederberg to two years probation, including eight months of house arrest, and fined her $550,000 for attempting to maintain a drug-related premises.
For about a decade, Cederberg, a millionaire and an heir to the Brach's Confections fortune, hosted series of dinner parties at her home. After the dining ended, people moved to the back of her home, and Cederberg laid out cocaine in the bathroom for the guests' use, testimony showed.
Cederberg, 52, is the latest person convicted and sentenced in the high-profile conspiracy involving cocaine in Billings and the surrounding area. Cederberg had testified for the federal government when her drug dealer and friend, Domingo Baez, was convicted. She also testified in the trials of some other defendants.
U.S. District Judge Charles C. Lovell said his first inclination was to reject the proposed plea agreement worked out between the U.S. Attorney's Office and Cederberg's lawyer that she be sentenced to two years' probation and a $50,000 forfeiture or fine.
"The plea agreement on its face is exceptionally lenient compared to the sentences imposed on the other defendants," Lovell said.
Lovell told Cederberg she was more culpable than Terri Jabs Kurth, who served eight months in prison, and was second in culpability only to Baez, who is serving 15 years in prison.
He did praise her role in cooperating with the Justice Department and testifying against some other defendants.
But then Lovell tacked on an additional $500,000 fine and said he would have fined Cederberg more had he been allowed to do so under federal sentencing guidelines.
Marcie Zinke, a federal probation officer, had recommended that Cederberg be incarcerated for 18 months, be sentenced to three years of supervised release afterward and be fined $250,000.
"The reason I have accepted this plea agreement ... is certain mental health concerns and the yeoman's service you provided to the United States," Lovell said.
He said the evidence would support a greater charge than the Justice Department brought forward.
"But I think the appropriate penalty here is a financial one, rather than one of incarceration," he said. "A prison sentence is not appropriate for you - at least not at this time."
Cederberg has net assets of at least $14 million, including three homes valued at a combined $3 million, including the $2 million home in which she lives, Lovell said, quoting the federal probation officer's report. Cederberg is a single mother with a 15-year-old daughter.
She has been an investor in CFT Inc., which owns Hooligans, a Billings bar, and the Montana Brewing Co., another downtown bar and restaurant. She also has owned an equestrian center outside Billings.
Friends and business associates, in letters submitted to the court, testified to Cederberg's compassion and widespread anonymous generosity in the Billings area.
"You do have an extreme history of a usage of illegal drugs, I think beginning at about age 17," Lovell said in sentencing her. "I do understand that you have given up that habit and are not using any illegal drugs. You are what we would refer to as a wealthy individual here in Montana."
Cederberg's attorney, Mark Parker, testified that his client has said she hasn't that used cocaine since 2008.
Lovell told Cederberg he believes she introduced the use of cocaine to a number of who otherwise may not have used the illegal drug.
"I'm very sorry for everything that I've done," Cederberg told Lovell, sobbing quietly. "I don't deny that I was wrong. I've changed my life. I've done everything I could possibly do for Mr. (Joe) Thaggard, (the assistant U.S. attorney) the past two and one-half years."
She added, "I really would like this to be over. It's been a very long two and one-half years."
Thaggard acknowledged that Cederberg's testimony had been valuable in obtaining convictions.
Cederberg told the judge she goes to therapy every week and has worked to turn around her life.
Under the sentencing, Cederberg is forbidden from committing any crimes, prohibited from possessing any controlled substances and from owning any firearms or ammunition. She can't possess or use alcoholic beverages during the period.
"That means stay out of the bars," Lovell told her.
Cederberg will be required to wear monitoring devices provided by the probation officer so it can monitor her locations. She cannot leave her home for eight months except for medical reasons, court appearances and any other activities approved in advance by the court.
She will be required to submit to up to regular DNA, urinalysis and breathalyzer tests.
Lovell said each one of the dinner parties where Cederberg laid out cocaine for her guests' use amounted to "a distribution of an illegal controlled substance," Lovell said, saying it amounted to thousands of dollars worth of drugs.
Cederberg's attorney presented the $50,000 check agreed to under the plea deal to the judge, and the Thaggard turned it over to someone from the U.S. Marshals Service.
As for the $500,000 additional fine, Lovell told Cederberg: "If you pay the fine within 30 days, the court won't apply interest to that amount. I think from your net worth, you'll be able to do it."
After Lovell pronounced sentence, he asked Cederberg: "Any questions?"
"No," said Cederberg, who was crying.
At the conclusion of the three-hour hearing, Cederberg was turned over to federal officials for processing and a urine test before she was allowed to return home.
Asked if he might appeal the sentence, Parker, her attorney said afterward, "I do not have a current intent to appeal. That will be decided by my client, not me."