7 Mendocino Coast residents charged in Kansas drug ring

Seven Mendocino Coast residents have been ensnared in a federal investigation into $17 million in illegal sales of "high-grade" marijuana and cocaine in Kansas.

James Michael Soderling, 42, of Fort Bragg pleaded not guilty Monday in Kansas to multiple drug charges, including marijuana and methamphetamine distribution and sales, according to court documents.

He is among 43 defendants listed in a 103-count indictment filed Oct. 31 as having had various roles in drug production, distribution and sales from 2005 to 2012 in Kansas, Missouri and California.

He and Sarah Soderling, 34, of Fort Bragg were arrested in July.

The investigation later broadened to include several prominent residents of the town of Mendocino, who now face charges that carry minimum sentences of 10 years in federal prison and $10 million in fines.

John Paul McMillon and his wife, Erin Keller, who are firefighters and emergency medical technicians with the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department; former firefighter and vacation property manager Henry "Hank" McCusker; former fire marshal Jeffrey Wall, 42, of Mendocino who runs a construction firm; and Richard W. Smith Jr., 43, of Mendocino were arrested Nov. 7.

They are accused of involvement in a drug ring led by two Lawrence, Kan., men, who made millions in illegal drug sales, according to the documents.

All but Smith pleaded not guilty Nov. 9 before a magistrate judge in San Francisco. All but Soderling, McCusker and Smith were released on bail.

Reached at home, Wall said he and others have been asked by their attorneys to not comment on the case.

He added that "there's a certain type of culture where we live and a certain type of culture in Kansas."

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