Once a standout athlete, Palmer man gets 8-year sentence on meth conviction

Casey Grove

An Alaska man whose Olympic dreams in long-distance running faded when he turned to drugs will spend eight years in prison after his sentence on Thursday for methamphetamine possession.

Brandon "Scooter" Moen once made newspaper headlines in Minnesota and Illinois for setting running records and winning races. But addiction and crime took over his life after he moved to Anchorage in 2010 and, later, to Palmer, federal prosecutors said. Alaska State Troopers found Moen in 2012 carrying more than 13 grams of near-pure meth and a loaded handgun, according to court documents.

Moen, 28, pleaded guilty in January to one count of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to federal court records. A judge sentenced Moen to 96 months behind bars and five years of supervised release, federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a written statement.

Originally from Minnesota, Moen was a standout runner for Montgomery-Lonsdale High School, according to a 2006 Mankato Free Press article about Moen's failed attempt at breaking the world record for running a marathon on a treadmill. Moen still holds the distinction of running one of the two fastest half-marathon times in Minnesota for a 20-year-old.

A 2008 article in the Bloomington, Ill., Pentagraph newspaper says Moen moved to the central Illinois city that year and soon began winning races, including a 5-kilometer race, an 8-kilometer race and a half-marathon. In the Pentagraph article, Moen said it was not always easy to stay motivated.

"As soon as you get your foot out the door, it's a lot better," Moen said, according to the Pentagraph. "Running gets addicting for sure."

Moen ran 80 to 90 miles a week at the height of his career -- he hoped to qualify for the Olympic Trial Marathon in 2012 -- but started abusing drugs after losing his brother, his best friend, to suicide, according to Moen's sentencing memorandum filed in court. Federal prosecutor Kyle French said the suicide occurred in January 2012 and that Moen's criminal history started before that. Still, Moen's lawyer, Jamie McGrady, wrote in the sentencing memorandum that her client never tried injecting drugs before his brother's suicide. He started doing so on a daily basis afterward and tried several times to overdose, McGrady wrote.

"His habit exploded, and in the six months prior to his arrest, he was using over $1,000 a day worth of methamphetamine and heroin," she wrote in the memorandum.

Alaska court records show Moen pleaded guilty to felony theft in 2011 and prosecutors dropped drug charges that had been part of the same case.

According to a plea agreement in the meth case, the real trouble came in June 2012, when an Alaska state trooper, who knew Moen had an outstanding arrest warrant, spotted Moen in Wasilla driving a red 1998 Mitsubishi coupe. The trooper arrested Moen on the warrant, for a probation violation, and found about $2,600 cash and a loaded, semi-automatic Ruger .380-caliber handgun in his pants pockets, the plea agreement says.

A subsequent search of Moen's car also turned up, in addition to the methamphetamine, 4 grams of heroin, syringes, hundreds of small baggies, a digital scale, a bulletproof vest and a tattoo gun, the plea agreement says. Moen admitted in his sentencing memorandum to being a low-level dealer but described the drugs as "personal-use."

"If you were to look at the items that were seized from his vehicle at the time of his arrest, it reflects that he had a deep involvement in illegal narcotics," French, the prosecutor, said. "It's a situation where he's not a user just getting caught up. It's a profoundly sad and disappointing situation, but at the same time, this is a serious guy."

It's to be hoped, French said, that the man once known for his graceful stride and raw running talent can get his life back on track.

The 5-foot-11 Moen, who was only 120 pounds when he was arrested, told a judge at the Thursday sentencing hearing that he had been working out in jail, was eating better and had gained 50 pounds, according to French. Moen also said he had been running again, albeit in a small, enclosed area, French said.

McGrady, Moen's lawyer, asked in the sentencing memorandum that Moen be placed in a drug rehabilitation program and sent to a prison in Minnesota to be closer to his family, now his support network. French said the judge honored the request.

"Just a few short years ago, he was an elite athlete, and possessed the discipline to train for and run marathons," McGrady wrote in the memorandum. "Mr. Moen can serve as a cautionary tale to others in prison and working on sobriety -- his was a rare talent, and it was wasted because of his drug abuse."


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.