FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A violent drug dealer hailed by associates in North Dakota and Minnesota for his ability to stay out of jail was sentenced Monday to 32 years in federal prison.
Jeremy Jon Hoff, nicknamed Johnny 5 for his standing on a regional list of most wanted criminals, was convicted of threatening a fellow drug dealer with a loaded handgun and hiring a hit man to kill two witnesses.
“I don’t know if he was trying to become Johnny No. 1, but that’s what he came to be,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said during Monday’s sentencing hearing.
Hoff, 28, had pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine, use of a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime, witness tampering and two counts of solicitation to murder a witness. He faced life in prison without parole.
Defense attorney Steven Mottinger acknowledged Hoff’s criminal history and called his client a cowboy, a jerk and a punk. He said Hoff got his kicks out of being a big shot in small areas of southwestern Minnesota where he grew up.
“He was the guy in Bird Island. He was the guy in Renville. He was the guy in Granite City,” Mottinger said.
However, Mottinger said he noticed positive changes after a “come to Jesus meeting” between the two of them several months ago and said Hoff had cooperated with authorities. Mottinger asked for a 20- to 25-year prison sentence.
“I think he’s starting to realize he did some really bad things and caused some harm to people,” the defense attorney said.
Prosecutors said Hoff began dealing in southwestern Minnesota, where he grew up, and then began moving large amounts of meth to the small southeastern North Dakota town of Valley City with three associates. They said his level of violence escalated along the way.
His earlier record included running over someone with a vehicle and beating a person with a hammer, Myers said.
He later pointed a loaded handgun at the head of a man he suspected of being an informant because the man refused to take a hit from a meth pipe during a party at a trailer house in Granite Falls, Minn. Hoff then fired into the floor, at which point the man took the drug, the prosecutor said.
“The purpose was to scare the person, which it did, obviously,” Myers said. “It scared everybody in that trailer.”
Hoff hatched his plan to kill two other drug dealers in a Minnesota jail after he was arrested, investigators said. He allegedly offered to pay another inmate money for the jobs and drew a detailed map to a house in Valley City where one of the men lived.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said Monday he was amazed Hoff was able to stay out of jail during a 12-year stretch in which he showed “no law-abiding behavior.”
“It’s dumb luck that there aren’t people dead in this case,” Erickson said.
Hoff told the judge he wanted to apologize to everyone affected by his actions and said drugs controlled his life and led to poor choices.
“I never meant for my life to turn out this way,” he said.
Erickson said he received letters of support from Hoff’s mom, dad, wife, son, brother, aunt, cousin, pastor and former girlfriend. The judge told Hoff as some family members cried that he should pay the price for his violent acts.
“You chose a path that involved murder and mayhem, and in the end I have no alternative,” Erickson said.
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