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Drug dealer testifies in Forestville triple slaying

The man accused of killing three people during a Forestville marijuana deal was a trusted member of a drug ring and had previously transported hundreds of pounds of pot across the country, a convicted marijuana distributor testified Monday.

Jeffrey Dings, 55, told a jury Monday that he had no knowledge of the drug deal allegedly put together by one of his drivers, Mark Cappello, who is charged with fatally shooting three associates execution-style in a Forestville cabin in February 2013 and stealing $140,000 in marijuana.

But Dings said he knew two of the three victims: Todd Klarkowski, of Boulder, Colo., and Richard Lewin of Huntington, N.Y. They were shot in the head with a third man, former Sebastopol resident Raleigh Butler, while packaging marijuana for transport to the East Coast.

The killings took place, Dings testified, during a time of rising tensions in the illegal marijuana trade.

Security at border crossings in the Arizona-Sonora region tightened in 2012, reducing the flow of marijuana into the United States, said Dings, who is currently in custody on federal drug charges and was granted immunity for his testimony.

Marijuana dealers, who were accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle, all of a sudden weren’t living that kind of lifestyle anymore, he said. Some started to turn on each other.

In this increasingly tense environment, Cappello lost out on a potential payday when another large California marijuana deal fell through, Dings said. Klarkowski was the only man to receive a big payout during the deal, and it resulted because he took another man’s share of the marijuana, Dings said.

After that, Dings didn’t want to work with Klarkowski anymore. “It exemplified Todd as definitely not a team player. I was done with him,” Dings said.

But Klarkowski and Cappello remained in touch, Dings said.

Dings said he later learned that “Mark was really trying to make something happen. He was going to step up to the plate and take a swing at it.”

Dings said the illegal marijuana trade was a lucrative source of income, testifying that Cappello was typically paid about $100 a pound to transport marijuana across the country. On one deal, Cappello helped him package and transport up to 800 pounds of pot, Dings said.

Cappello, 49, of Central City, Colo., was a trusted worker, “world-class,” Dings said .

But Cappello began to get frustrated and desperate when marijuana shipments across the border dropped and deals started falling through. The relationship between the two men became tense, he said.

“The greed thing was a serious red flag,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com.

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