Assistant claims drug charge a setup

Updated: October 3, 2003, 6:51 PM ET
Associated Press

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.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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