United States Attorney Ron Parsons announced that a Pierre, South Dakota, man convicted of Conspiracy to Distribute Methamphetamine was sentenced on November 16, 2020, by Chief Judge Roberto A. Lange, U.S. District Court.
Dustin Warnke, age 35, was sentenced to 174 months in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, a $1,000 fine, a special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund in the amount of $100, and forfeiture of a firearm.
Warnke was indicted by a federal grand jury on November 13, 2019. He pled guilty on August 24, 2020.
The conviction stemmed from a conspiracy beginning in at least March 2018, and continuing to November 2019, wherein Warnke was involved with several other individuals, including Andrew Bunch, Nicole Hopkins, Adam Tanner and Nathan Thoe (deceased), to distribute methamphetamine in central South Dakota. During the course of the conspiracy, these individuals made numerous trips to Minnesota and Colorado to obtain methamphetamine. Firearms were routinely carried by Warnke, Bunch, and Thoe to protect their product. Bunch was previously sentenced to 27 years in federal prison, Tanner was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison, and Hopkins was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
Drug trafficking is an inherently violent activity. Firearms are tools of the trade for drug dealers. It is common to find drug traffickers armed with guns in order to protect their illegal drug product and cash, and enforce their illegal operations.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. The Department of Justice reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of its renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and local communities to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.
This case is also part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. For more information about Project Guardian, please see: https://www.justice.gov/projectguardian.
This case was investigated by the Northern Plains Safe Trails Drug Enforcement Task Force, South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Pierre Police Department, Stanley County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan N. Dilges prosecuted the case.
Warnke was immediately remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.