MADISON — A Norfolk man will spend at least the next 2 years behind bars for a conviction involving possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Jason Koehler, 43, was sentenced by Judge Mark Johnson to a prison term of 4 to 8 years on Monday in district court for the drug charge, a Class 2 felony. Koehler appeared on Monday with his attorney, Desirae Solomon of Omaha.

Two witnesses testified on behalf of Koehler, who had spent the past seven months undergoing intensive drug treatment in Norfolk.

Koehler’s charges arose following a November 2020 incident in which he and two other occupants were detained following a traffic stop where a state trooper found about 7 grams of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.

During the traffic stop, Koehler had meth on his person and handed it to a female who also had been in the car in an attempt to clear himself of any association with drug possession.

But the woman, who feared legal trouble, recorded the incident in which Koehler handed her the drugs, which was later admitted into evidence.

Jason Blum, a peer support specialist at The Link halfway house in Norfolk, testified on Koehler’s behalf at his sentencing hearing. Blum said Koehler had graduated from a dual-diagnosis treatment program and decided on his own to continue further treatment.

Blum, who indicated he had worked at The Link for about three years, said he had seen a cycle of people who come to the halfway house and are unable to succeed. But Koehler, he said, had exceeded expectations and was looked upon by his peers as a leader.

“Since coming to The Link and getting his feet wet in recovery, he has done everything that’s suggested of him,” Blum said. “He’s put his head down and went to work.”

Koehler is the epitome of a success story, Blum said, and had made all the necessary changes to improve his life.

Kevin Gunn, who has undergone treatment at The Link, also testified on Koehler’s behalf. Gunn said Koehler had been a major part of his recovery, and that he was someone who was “involved with everyone” and “extremely relatable.”

Solomon said Koehler had been accountable since the incident occurred.

“I haven’t known Mr. Koehler for his whole legal history, but I have known him for the last year,” she said. “What I’ve noticed is his growth, particularly since March 2021 when he was able to get into treatment.”

Koehler’s drug use peaked earlier this year, Solomon said, but he had done extremely well in treatment since.

“To go from where he was to a leadership role is a complete 180 (turnaround) for Mr. Koehler. I see his record, and it is concerning,” Solomon said. “But the thing that I see is that there haven’t been a whole lot of opportunities in those other cases to be on long-term probation. Probation for five years can give him a great opportunity to maintain his sobriety.”

Koehler thanked Johnson for giving him the opportunity to undergo treatment earlier this year and “grow from the toxic life that I was leading.”

“I love recovery, I have a great sponsor and a great support network, and I use that to the best of my ability,” he said.

Matthew Kiernan, deputy Madison County attorney, acknowledged that Koehler’s reported growth and his ability to help others is a positive sign, but Koehler’s actions since his November 2020 arrest are a “cause for concern.” Koehler has separate charges pending from an alleged incident earlier this year, and he also had been convicted of three misdemeanors since last November.

Furthermore, Kiernan said, Koehler’s criminal history includes 16 criminal convictions, including six in 2020.

“The defendant’s criminal history is long and nonstop,” he said. “Considering how many times he has violated his bond conditions, I don’t think he’s a great candidate for probation.”

The Nebraska Legislature has established a distinguished difference in the respective penalties for possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. A possession charge carries a maximum of 2 years’ imprisonment, while possession with intent carries a maximum of 50 years in prison.

“The Legislature has seen fit to differentiate the two sentences,” Kiernan said. “(Koehler) needs to be held to a higher standard, and a term like this does warrant incarceration.”

Johnson, in review of Nebraska Revised Statute 29-2260, cited the presentence investigation (PSI) report, which indicated Koehler would be a high risk to reoffend if he had been placed on probation.

“I have to look at whether or not you would respond affirmatively to probationary treatment and, based upon your history, the court would tend to believe that you would not,” the judge said. “Your criminal history is terrible.”

Johnson told Koehler that he would acknowledge the 43-year-old’s “substantial” effort in recovery, but it didn’t outweigh his littered criminal history.

“While it is highly commendable that you are addressing your addiction issues, one of the things in recovery that is stressed is that you must deal with the consequences of actions before you can proceed to full recovery,” Johnson said. “One of the consequences that you must deal with is this crime.”

Koehler was given credit for 13 days served and must serve 2 years less 13 days credit before he becomes eligible for parole. He must serve 4 years before his mandatory release.

Others were scheduled to be sentenced on Monday for the following:

Third-degree assault of an officer

— Crystal L. Eberhardt, 39, 1101 Park Ave., 12 months’ probation, 90 days in the Madison County Jail with credit for 12 days served, costs.

First-degree assault

— Mathew G. Gaunt, 37, 2002 W. Omaha Ave., 48 months’ probation, 90 days in the Madison County Jail with credit for 2 days served, $12,876 restitution, costs.

Intentional child abuse, third-degree assault, failure to appear when on bail

— Adam J. Mittelstaedt, 43, 508 S. Eighth St., 360 days in the Madison County Jail with credit for 88 days served, 12 months’ postrelease supervision, costs.

Driving under the influence (.15 grams or more)

— Isabelle L. Roepke, 24, 601 S. Second St., 18 months’ probation, 2 days in the Madison County Jail, $500, $374 restitution, license revoked for 1 years, costs.

Driving under the influence (.15 grams or more) — third offense, attempted possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, failure to appear when on bail

— Miguel A. Sixtos, 28, 410 Indiana Ave., 5 to 8 years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections with credit for 273 days served, $1,000, license revoked for 15 years, costs.

Possession of alprazolam, driving under the influence

— Luke R. Sukup, 26, 110 Gold Strike Drive, No. 6, had his previous 20-month probation sentence continued.