Leader of Bellingham-area drug ring gets 20 years in prison

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 9, 2013 

The leader of Whatcom County's most widespread and prolific drug ring was sentenced Tuesday, July 9, to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Todd Hamilton, 36, of Bellingham used violence and threats to impose his will as he ran the drug trafficking organization, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a news release.

"This defendant has been a source of crime and violence in Whatcom County for far too long," Durkan said in the release.

Just after his release from Washington state prison in January 2011, Hamilton began running a heroin and methamphetamine ring out of a condominium in the 500 block of Darby Drive. Investigators got a warrant for a wiretap and learned Hamilton had purchased significant quantities of both drugs from his Olympia-based supplier and had those transported to the Bellingham area for further distribution to Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, according to court records and the plea agreement.

When authorities searched his home in December 2011, they found meth, heroin, drug ledgers, packing materials and a loaded .45-caliber pistol.

During the investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration agents learned that Hamilton was purchasing several pounds of meth and heroin each week, then redistributing that. Hamilton had recruited Christian Benjamin Knight, a state Department of Corrections employee, as part of the ring. Knight used his DOC computer to determine whether law enforcement was investigating Hamilton, according to the records. Knight resigned from DOC and was charged in the investigation.

Another ring member was longtime drug dealer Rosie Castaneda, who is serving a nine-year prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute drugs.

On April 1, 2013, Hamilton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

In asking for the long prison sentence, prosecutors noted that the full extent of Hamilton's violent reign may never be known. He is known for his ties to an Aryan Nation prison gang called "The Hated."

"Defendant made tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars off the backs of drug addicts in the Bellingham community," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. "His brazen and prolific drug dealing was only matched by his reputation for violence. The wiretap revealed that Defendant was willing to assault the vulnerable people who were addicted to his poisons. Defendant armed himself with a firearm to ensure that he was invincible. What is unknown is how many people.... suffered from Defendant's violence without reporting it to authorities precisely because they were both afraid of Defendant and feared police attention."

Multiple agencies worked to break up the drug ring, including the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force, Whatcom and Skagit County sheriff's offices, Bellingham police, DEA, Washington State Patrol, Department of Corrections and regional drug task forces.

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Dispatcher Blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher or follow us on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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