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Assistant claims drug charge a setup

TOWNSEND, Mont. -- Former Montana State assistant football coach Joe O'Brien pleaded not guilty Friday to felony drug charges.

O'Brien, 30, appeared in District Court in a hearing that lasted
less than 10 minutes. Judge Jeffrey Sherlock allowed him to remain
free on $15,000 bail pending another court hearing tentatively set
for Oct. 24. A trial date had not been set late Friday afternoon.

Sherlock also agreed to remove restrictions that prevented
O'Brien from traveling outside Broadwater or Gallatin counties
while his court case is pending. Attorney Dan Buckley made the
request, saying O'Brien's new job as a roofer could require him to
travel statewide.

O'Brien, who resigned as assistant head coach last week, was
arrested in Townsend on Sept. 12 and charged with possession of
methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute, both
felonies.

Buckley said O'Brien maintains he was set up by a vindictive
individual.

Bozeman Police Detective Greg Megargel, a member of the Missouri
River Drug Task Force, has said authorities had been investigating
O'Brien for months.

O'Brien was accused of accepting from a police informant an
envelope that contained a half-ounce of crystal methamphetamine
with a street value of about $2,700.

Authorities say the envelope, first delivered to Federal Express
in Belgrade, then delivered to O'Brien by the informant, came from
out of state. So far, no one else has been charged in the case.

Montana State put O'Brien on paid leave immediately after his
arrest. School officials announced Sept. 25 that he was resigning.

O'Brien, a native of Pittsburg, Calif., was an All-American
defensive lineman at Boise State in 1994. He joined the MSU
coaching staff in 2000.

In May 2000, O'Brien was arrested on a misdemeanor assault
charge after police said he pushed and injured a woman. He was not
convicted, but MSU warned him at the time that if he got in trouble
with the law again, it would be grounds for dismissal.