CODY — Wire-tapped phone calls, familial accusations and disputed evidence made up just some of the heavy topics brought up during two different preliminary hearings Thursday in Park County Circuit Court.
Daniel Justice, 57, Sloan Justice, 51, and Shania Justice, 23, have all been arrested in the past two weeks for alleged crimes that involved receiving packages of meth from California. They are each facing charges for attempting to conspire to deliver meth, with the potential of receiving up to 20 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
Daniel and Sloan Justice came before Judge Bruce Waters in separate hearings, with the purpose of attempting to have their jail bonds lowered.
Investigation of the Justices began in October 2018 when a package was found with a strong odor of marijuana inside the Cody FedEx store, addressed to a “Stalon Justice” of Meeteetse.
Powell police drug sniffing dog K-9 Zeke was able to confirm the smell was coming from the single suspected package and authorities obtained a search warrant.
Inside the package agents first found an origami craft kit, complete with an origami turtle and bird. After further searching marijuana and a “large crystal type rock” tumbled into view, which was later determined to be meth.
After field testing, it was determined the items sent from a Matt Gibbons of Palmdale, Calif., contained nearly an ounce of meth and 6.2 grams of marijuana, including packaging.
“That quantity would usually be for dividing up and distributing in smaller increments to make money,” Department of Criminal Investigation agent Juliet Fish said.
Wyoming DCI agents next made a trip to the Justice home on Arrowhead Drive West, northwest of downtown Meeteetse, to deliver the same package with the controlled substances removed.
In order to avoid suspicion about the reduced weight, agents inserted bath salts in the package.
At the door, Fish engaged Sloan Justice in a back-and-forth regarding the intended recipient of the package since no Stalon Justice lives at the residence.
“She said she knew a Sylvester Stalon(e),” Fish said with a smile.
Sloan Justice intimated that her name had been misspelled on the package and then accepted the mail.
Shortly after agents obtained a search warrant for the Justice house.
A long road accesses the Justice property, where on the front porch of the house, vehicles can be viewed approaching from a long distance away, Fish said. Agents surrounding the house said they saw an unidentified individual speaking on the phone from the porch as investigators approached in vehicles.
After entering the home, Fish told Sloan Justice she was suspected of receiving meth shipments from California.
“I know nothing,” Sloan Justice said to Fish, according to the affidavit.
She then told agents she did know Gibbons and that the package was in the bathroom. Upon investigation of the bathroom, the bath salts and surrounding plastic were found floating inside the toilet. When asked why she dumped the items in the toilet, Sloan Justice responded, “Cuz that’s what I was told,” Fish wrote in her report.
Sloan Justice would not comment as to who gave her that direction, but a search of phone records later revealed that she had been talking to her husband, Daniel Justice, immediately leading up to the search.
Sloan Justice said she had been asking her husband if he was expecting car parts, which she said he had.
“The state has not met its burden of proof,” said Sarah Miles, Sloan Justice’s public defender attorney. “There’s a lot of talk and testimony (about others) but we’re missing a connecting piece to Sloan Justice.”
Prosecutors found fault with this argument as Jack Hatfield, Park County prosecuting attorney, said Sloan Justice’s behavior was unequivocally suspicious because of her attempt to send items down the toilet.
“Why else would she contact her husband? It is because she thought she discovered controlled substances,” Hatfield posed and replied. “She was trying to destroy the contents of that package because she is part of the conspiracy.”
Only drug paraphernalia was found in the home, all in a room containing belongings owned by Shania Justice, who no longer lived in the home at the time of the search, Fish said. Inside the Justice parents’ room, a list of what appeared to be five tracking numbers was also discovered, but all from 2017.
Sloan Justice’s cellphone was soon after confiscated by authorities and inside it, text messages were found alluding to a series of transactions organized between the family and Gibbons.
“They were engaged in getting drugs from California and arranging to get the money from there,” Fish said.
The most significant of texts appears to be a message sent from Shania Justice to her mother communicating, “Matt says Dad taking too long and needs to pick up the pace. 1 (sic) a week.”
“One a week means receiving or distributing one ounce a week,” Fish explained.
Authorities also took in Shania Justice’s phone but the phone was cleared of data, Fish said.
Shania Justice later told investigators she had been contacted by Gibbons to set up the meth transactions and that her father would leave money to send to Gibbons in a parked truck. In turn, she would send money via MoneyGram, a money transfer service, to Gibbons through another individual in California. She also said the transactions had been occurring for about a year before October 2018.
“She told me she was doing it for her parents,” Fish said to Hatfield from the stand.
Sloan Justice sat still and displayed no emotion as this information was relayed.
One of the key pieces of evidence used by Hatfield in both hearings Friday was a recorded phone call placed from the Park County Detention Center by inmate Alicia Dunn to Daniel Justice on July 3, that he said “shows existence of conspiracy.”
Dunn, also of Meeteetse, was in custody for allegedly breaking her probation in an unrelated case, and both she and Shania Justice prison stays overlapped.
Fish said authorities had previously found conversations on Sloan Justice’s phone with Dunn, engaging the topic of controlled substances without code or cover. In the recorded call Dunn placed to Daniel Justice, she sounds frantic, warning him she had seen Shania Justice speaking with DCI agents at the detention center for “two hours.” This phone call was played before the courtroom on Thursday.
“I told her to keep her mouth shut,” Daniel Justice told Dunn over the phone. “She just doesn’t get it.”
Hatfield’s main argument is that by admitting he told his daughter not to talk with authorities, Daniel Justice was purposely impeding the investigation.
“He is trying to keep a member of the conspiracy from cooperating with law enforcement,” he said.
Lindsey Crandall, Daniel Justice’s public defender attorney, countered.
“He only wanted to let her know to get a lawyer and not speak with anyone,” she said. “I hear a father who is worried about his daughter’s Constitutional rights.”
Big, yet disconnected pieces
At this time, no lynch pin exists that indisputably connects the family to the alleged act.
“The … thing about conspiracy charges is due to the nature of the crime the state is almost never going to have direct evidence and exact criminal objectives,” Hatfield said.
By Leo Wolfson
Cody Enterprise Via Wyoming News Exchange