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Drug bust in Pike County

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 11:29 am

GustafsonCMYKDave Moller
Louisiana Press-Journal
If an Illinois man had divulged the names of four “influential businessmen” from the Lake of the Ozarks he allegedly bought pounds of pot for, he might have escaped a seven-year prison term last week. But, Mark S. Gustafson, 54, of Antioch, Ill., didn’t give those names when asked twice at his sentencing hearing in Pike County Circuit Court on Thursday, December 11, and he paid the price.
Gustafson was originally arrested after being pulled over for speeding on Highway 54 between Bowling Green and Curryville on March 10, 2014. A deputy approached his Ford pickup and “noticed a strong odor of marijuana,” according to information from the sheriff’s office.
A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed five pounds of marijuana in individual bags and more than an ounce in a baggie inside a coat.
Gustafson pled guilty to possessing drugs with intent to distribute them in court on October 14. In return, three misdemeanor driving violations were dropped by Prosecuting Attorney Mark Fisher.
Fisher displayed the large mound of marijuana on a table before Judge Patrick S. Flynn at the sentencing.
He then called a sheriff’s deputy to the stand, who had assisted another deputy at the scene of the arrest. The deputy said Gustafson told him he was selling the pot at the Lake of the Ozarks because his Illinois construction company was in financial trouble and he needed extra cash. The deputy said Gustafson told him he had picked up 10 pounds of marijuana in Chicago with another man and split it evenly to sell.
The deputy said the street value of the marijuana was between $6,000 and $40,000, depending on its potency.
Gustafson was called to the stand and said he had paid $7,500 for the marijuana for himself and four other businessmen.
“They gave me their money up front,” he said and considered the transaction as a way to get a personal amount of marijuana for all five. Gustafson said he had residences in Illinois and at a cattle ranch he owns near Lake of the Ozarks.
Gustafson said he would have to lay off six people from his Illinois business and the ranch would suffer if he was sent to prison.
Defense Attorney Rex Bradley asked for probation, noting that Gustafson had never been convicted of a crime. Gustafson said he has been arrested for a burglary as a teen but had simply been “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and not convicted.
When cross-examined by Fisher, Gustafson admitted that he had been smoking marijuana heavily since 1971, “one-half ounce or better a day.”
He also said he admitted to a state official involved in his pre-sentencing report that he had smoked pot after his October guilty plea.
Then Fisher asked Gustafson point blank who the five men were that he bought the marijuana for.
“I can’t give you that, sir,” he said. “They are influential businessmen. I don’t want to drag them into it.”
He also said the $2,974 in cash found inside his truck was from cattle sales and not dealing marijuana.
Bradley said his client could complete a probation term and knew he could get up to 15 years in prison if he violated it.
Judge Patrick S. Flynn asked Gustafson if he had anything to say to the court prior to sentencing.
Gustafson said he did not, but Flynn had plenty to say to him.
“What’s in it for you to protect the names?,” he asked. “It scares you more to give up people’s names than to go to prison for 15 years?”
Flynn added he could only believe “there’s something it in for you or your story isn’t true.”
At that point, Gustafson said he was willing to divulge the names and was “asking for the mercy of the court.”
But, Judge Flynn said it was too late. He added that he did not believe that Gustafson was delivering marijuana for personal use.
The judge said he has been handling drug court cases for the past year and had learned new tolerance for the addicted.
He also said putting people in prison doesn’t solve the overall drug problem.
But, drug court defendants “must be honest and transparent,” and “I find it very difficult to believe the defendant,” the judge said. He added that it might not have been the first time Gustafson transported large amounts of marijuana for sale.
He then sentenced him to seven years in the Missouri prison system.
In addition to the criminal case, Fisher has filed a suit to seize  Gustafson’s truck and the cash found during the search. That case is still pending, according to court records.