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BILLINGS - A Red Lodge bar owner and friend of former Carbon County Attorney Robert L. Eddleman testified Tuesday that he made undercover cocaine buys from accused drug trafficker Domingo Baez, who was selling to Eddleman and others.

Carl Lauritzen, owner of the Snow Creek Saloon in Red Lodge, said he worked with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to avoid prosecution for a small amount of cocaine found in his house by state officials who were investigating a complaint about him.

Lauritzen was one of several witnesses who talked about buying cocaine from Baez.

Baez, 40, of Billings, and two co-defendants from Washington are on trial in U.S. District Court for allegedly trafficking more than 11 pounds of cocaine in Yellowstone and Carbon counties from 2004 until 2008. The defendants are charged with conspiracy and possession counts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thaggard said Baez got his cocaine from his two co-defendants, Maurisio Ramirez, 30, and Gilberto Acevedo, 32, both of Wenatchee, Wash.

Lauritzen, who admitted being a longtime cocaine user, said he used the drug with Eddleman and Eddleman's fiancée, Terri Jabs Kurth, an interior designer in Billings. Eddleman supplied the cocaine, he said.

Lauritzen also knew Baez from the bar business, he said.

DEA agents who were investigating corruption and drug allegations against Eddleman contacted him in 2007 about helping, Lauritzen said.

Lauritzen made two controlled buys of cocaine from Baez in Billings and once in Red Lodge, he said. DEA agents monitored the transactions.

When Baez changed his telephone number, Lauritzen said he tried to get the new number by calling Eddleman at work. Eddleman "wasn't happy about" the call, he said. Baez also told him to not to bother Eddleman at work, he said.

Eddleman is serving a 2-1/2-year federal sentence for conspiracy to maintain a premises for drug distribution. Kurth is serving an eight-month sentence for the same offense. The two admitted buying cocaine from Baez and making it available to friends at parties in Billings and Red Lodge.

Five other Billings residents have been convicted and sentenced in the large conspiracy.

In other testimony, Alisa Sublette, who was a dancer at Planet Lockwood, said she worked for the DEA to make controlled buys of cocaine from Baez. Sublette met Baez through a former boyfriend and Baez came to Planet Lockwood, she said.

Sublette contacted the DEA through a law enforcement officer she knew, she said. Sublette bought cocaine from Baez four times in 2008 with DEA money and gave the agents the drugs after each purchase, she said. The DEA paid her about $4,000 for her work.

Sublette stopped using cocaine in March 2008, when she began working for the DEA, and has been clean since, she said. Sublette used cocaine from about August 2007 until March 2008 and bought the drug from Baez, she said.

Lee Cornell, regional agent in charge for the state's Division of Criminal Investigation, testified that he worked undercover to make a series of ounce and multi-ounce purchases of cocaine from Baez. During one of the deals, Cornell took his contact, Manuel Melgar, who was convicted in a related case, to buy 4 ounces of cocaine for $5,600 from Baez at his house.

The DEA's investigation included monitoring Baez and his associates and tapping his phone toward the end of the investigation, said DEA Special Agent Joe Kirkland.

In September 2008, investigators moved in with search warrants for Baez's house and the houses of associates, Kirkland said. Law enforcement was concerned about public corruption with Eddleman, who resigned after being indicted, and was worried that Baez was destroying evidence. Eddleman did not cooperate with investigators, he said.

The jury trial continues Wednesday with Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom presiding.

 

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