By Fernando Alba
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CORTLAND COUNTY, N.Y. — In February 2019, Cortland County deputies pulled over a pickup truck in a routine traffic stop.
What they found was anything but routine: a .380 caliber handgun, four pounds of crystal meth and more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
That stop marked the end of a cross-country drug dealing scheme that eventually led police and prosecutors to an execution-style murder in a California desert.
A federal judge in Syracuse this month sentenced the driver of the pickup, Kyle M. Leeper, to 40 years in prison for distributing meth and fatally shooting a middle man in the drug ring.
Leeper, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania man, had been trafficking high-purity crystal meth across the United States with stops in Cortland County, Indiana and Los Angeles, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.
Leeper obtained the meth he sold with help from Crystal Stephens, an inmate in Montgomery County jail in Indiana, prosecutors said.
Calling from the jail, Stephens gave Leeper names of meth suppliers. That led Leeper to California in January 2019 when he arranged to buy three pounds of crystal meth for $5,000 from a man staying at a motel.
That man shortchanged Leeper by giving significantly less meth than what was agreed on, prosecutors said.
Looking for the man to make good on the deal, Leeper abducted him and others at gunpoint and forced them to find meth and money.
Leeper got zip ties from a Walmart and drove to a deserted dirt road on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Barstow, California, prosecutors said. There, Leeper bound the wrists and ankles of one of the men he took, prosecutors said.
Leeper walked the man a short distance before he shot him eight times in the back and left his body there, prosecutors said.
For weeks after, Leeper delivered meth in Cortland County and returned to Los Angeles to buy more, prosecutors said. On Feb. 13, 2019, deputies stopped Leeper in his pickup and discovered the gun used in the murder and meth he was selling.
District Judge David Hurd sentenced Leeper on Nov. 19 to 40 years in prison on drug conspiracy, gun possession and murder charges.
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