A man from Springfield – the eighth and final co-defendant – pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday for his role in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine in the Springfield area.

Michael Ayala, 37, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Rush to participating in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and to participating in a money-laundering conspiracy.

Co-defendant Ronda Easton, 53, of Springfield, pleaded guilty on June 29, 2016, to the same charges. Ayala and Easton are among eight co-defendants who pleaded guilty, including Steven Easton, 49; James Parker, 46; Robert Cardenas Jr., 28; Cody Keller, 33; and David Climer, 37; all of Springfield, and Michael Thompson, 58, of Goodyear, Ariz.

Ayala admitted he supplied meth to Steven Easton for distribution in the Springfield area until his wife, Ronda Easton, was released from state prison and took over the meth distribution operation in Springfield. The meth arrived by mail and was driven from Arizona.

 Ronda Easton sold pound quantities to Parker, Keller, and Climer. Thompson and Cardenas drove the meth from Arizona to Missouri.

Ronda Easton admitted she had been distributing large amounts of meth that she purchased from Ayala. She paid Ayala $9,000 per pound of methamphetamine and sold it for $12,000 per pound. She stated that she received meth from Ayala every seven to 10 days and referred to one recent shipment of 10 pounds of methamphetamine.

On April 15, 2015, law enforcement officers in New Mexico stopped a Jeep Commander driven by Cardenas, with Thompson as a passenger, and seized approximately 14.5 pounds of meth hidden inside a compartment near the back of the vehicle. They also seized a bundle that contained 2,228 grams of meth inside a luggage bag. Cardenas told investigators that Ayala had paid him $1,700 to drive the vehicle from Arizona to Springfield.

The next day, a controlled delivery of meth was made to Ayala in Springfield. Ayala was arrested in a traffic stop and officers found a Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic pistol in the vehicle, as well as ammunition, syringes, and $19,231.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Ayala must forfeit the Jeep Commander, the firearm and ammunition, and the cash to the government.

On Jan. 5, 2015, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at a home shared by Ayala and Ronda Easton. They seized four large Tupperware containers containing about 1.5 kilograms of pure methamphetamine, a black brief case containing baggies of methamphetamine and $1,520, a Taurus .410-caliber shotgun, a Cobra .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol, a loaded Quality Firearms .38-caliber revolver, a loaded Springfield Armory 9mm pistol, a Smith and Wesson .40-caliber pistol, and $14,779 in a purse.

Ayala and Ronda Easton admitted they used the proceeds from distributing meth to buy assets, which also concealed the source of their proceeds, including a residential property and a 2012 Ford Mustang that must be forfeited to the government.

Under federal statutes, Ayala is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of life in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the Springfield Police Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Yavapai County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Department, the Bernalillo County, N.M., Sheriff’s Department, and the Franklin County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department all investigated this case.