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Feds charge two in Pierre with dealing meth, including one who was with man shot by agents

Andrew Bunch

PIERRE, S.D. - A 35-year-old Pierre woman who says she was with a man who was shot dead Jan. 13 by federal agents faces a possible sentence of life in prison after pleading not guilty last week to a charge of conspiracy to deal methamphetamine.

Nicole Hopkins was arraigned in federal court in Pierre on Thursday, May 16, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Moreno.

In the same courtroom, Andrew Bunch, 29, was arraigned on the same meth-dealing charge, plus a count of being illegally in possession of a handgun.

A federal grand jury indicted Bunch and Hopkins on May 14.

Both counts carry a maximum penalty, on conviction, of life in prison and a $10 million fine, according to a news release Friday from U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons.

The arraignments of Hopkins and Bunch give the first official outline of the wide-ranging federal investigation into alleged drug and related crimes involving Nathan Thoe, who was killed by authorities in January at a rest stop east of Chamberlain during an attempted arrest.

A local prosecutor in southwest Minnesota earlier this year said that Thoe, Hopkins and Bunch and others were suspected of stealing vehicles and trafficking in firearms and drugs in Fort Pierre and in Minnesota and other states and that law enforcement agencies had traded warnings about the group being dangerous.

The arraignments of Hopkins and Bunch apparently are linked to a drug investigation that led to the shooting death of Thoe Jan. 13.

The federal charges allege Bunch and Hopkins, beginning about March 1, 2018, “knowingly and intentionally,” conspired with “persons known and unknown,” to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount” of meth.

The FBI has not said much about Thoe, except that he was shot to death during an altercation at a rest stop east of Chamberlain on Jan. 13.

The charges against Bunch include that in November 2018, he had possessed a Colt .22 cal. Semi-automatic Woodsman Sport pistol, “knowing he had been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year and knowing he was an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance . . .”

Bunch also faces drug-related charges in state court in Pierre but his court hearing scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, was canceled shortly before the hearing, likely because of the federal court proceedings.

Bunch remains in the Hughes County Jail where he’s been since early January.

Although Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Dilges opposed Hopkins’ request to be released pending trial, Moreno agreed on Thursday to release her, under certain conditions, to the custody of her father, who lives in central South Dakota, according to court documents.

Bunch has been in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre since early January, facing several meth-related charges from a traffic stop in which a police officer said he found drugs.

Bunch had been arrested in December at the Walmart store in Pierre and released on bond. He was living in Sioux Falls last year and moved to Faith a few months ago.