Russell Britton
Russell Britton (Cliff Grassmick / Camera file photo)

Russell "Rusty" Britton told police that when he saw Nathaniel Tallman the night he disappeared, the Lafayette man was already dead — delivered to his Berthoud residence rolled in a tarp — and that two other men who brought his body there told Britton it was his job to get rid of the body.

That allegation, contained in an affidavit for the arrest of Moises Mendez, 26, released Wednesday, is the first explanation that has come to light on how the body of Tallman would end up by a Wyoming roadside nearly eight weeks after the 25-year-old Lafayette resident was last seen alive.

Britton and Mendez face first-degree murder charges, as does a third man in the case, Daniel Ortiz, 38.

The 67-page arrest affidavit provides an in-depth look into the Tallman investigation. It alleges Tallman helped grow marijuana at multiple locations on the Front Range and trafficked in the product, a course that ultimately led to his violent end.

When Tallman's body was recovered, he still had his wallet and identification, including a medical marijuana registry license. An autopsy would show he was shot once, point-blank, just behind the right ear.

Tallman case principals

Nathaniel Tallman, 25: Lafayette resident, missing Jan. 21, body found March 13

Russell 'Rusty' Britton, 58: Berthoud tiling contractor, charged with first-degree murder, has admitted to disposing of Tallman's body

Daniel Ortiz, 38: Federal Heights resident, charged with first-degree murder

Moises Cazares Mendez, 26: Longmont resident, charged with first-degree murder

Britton, who told police he first sought access to pot to help his wife deal with excruciating pain stemming from a failed surgical procedure, would change his stories to detectives numerous times during the investigation.

But once a Colorado Bureau of Investigation forensic analyst conclusively tied Tallman's blood to the inside of Britton's white Ford van — and even after continuing briefly to insist that Tallman had never been in the vehicle — Britton finally admitted some involvement in the crime.

Expecting Tallman for a marijuana transaction at his Berthoud home at 7 p.m. Jan. 21, Britton said, Tallman failed to appear. But then he heard an approaching car, came out of his garage and saw Tallman's 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer pulling in.

A man subsequently identified as Mendez emerged from Tallman's car, which had parked alongside Britton's van. Ortiz then also pulled in, Britton said, driving a separate vehicle.

"Daniel (Ortiz) opened the tail gate on his truck and Britton saw what appeared to be a body wrapped in a tarp," according to the affidavit. "Daniel (Ortiz) told Britton he had to take the body, which Britton assumed was Nate.

"Britton assumed Daniel and 'his homie' (Mendez) shot and killed Nate and transported him to Britton's home. Daniel and his 'homie' repeatedly told Britton he had to take the body," the affidavit stated, and at one point the man believed to be Mendez even pointed his grey-colored semiautomatic pistol in Britton's direction, Britton said.

Ortiz and Mendez then placed a blue tarp in the back of Britton's van, loaded the body — still in a tarp — into the vehicle, and left, Ortiz driving his truck and Mendez driving Tallman's car.

Moises Mendez
Moises Mendez (Cliff Grassmick / Camera file photo)

Britton told police he then drove to North Dakota, to complete a previously arranged marijuana deal of less than 10 pounds. On the way, as he made his way north on Highway 85 nine miles north of Lusk, Wyo., Britton said he stopped, dragged the body under the guard rail and pushed it 30 to 40 feet down a steep hill.

There it would remain until March 13, when Tallman's remains were spotted by a Niobrara County (Wyo.) road grader starting his workday.

And despite the release Wednesday of one affidavit, the investigation is very much in an active phase, with unanswered questions still being explored.

Drug buys arranged around Broncos games

Daniel Ortiz
Daniel Ortiz (Cliff Grassmick / Camera file photo)

Much told to police so far by Britton, who earned his living doing tiling work at the time of his arrest, would change over the course of the investigation.

For example, Britton told police early on in the case — when all they knew was that Tallman had planned to see him the night of Jan. 21 — that Tallman told him he was moving up to 100 pounds of marijuana a week, at prices around $2,600 a pound.

But the entirety of the affidavit does not reflect trafficking activity at anywhere near the level suggested by Britton, most deals involving just a few pounds of pot.

Police were told by Kevin Tallman that he believed his son had put down $8,000 in cash for his 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer. Police would later learn that he actually paid $13,000 down, in cash, listing his employment as the Legacy Publishing Group.

A roommate with whom Tallman had been living in Lafayette up until just before his disappearance, Zalyn Lee, described him as "not flashy," the affidavit said, and that "he does not blow his money, except at strip clubs" such as the Diamond Cabaret or Platinum 84. In recent years, Lee said, Tallman had sold small amounts of drugs such as cocaine and Ecstasy, and often used prepaid cell phones.

Acquaintances would also link Tallman to marijuana grow operations south of Lafayette, in Eldorado Springs and west of Loveland.

Britton had met Tallman by way a mutual acquaintance, and when Britton said he had friends in North Dakota who wanted a few pounds of pot, Tallman said he could meet that demand, the affidavit said.

Britton, according to the affidavit, described an arrangement that developed by which Tallman would bring vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana as far north as the area near Britton's home in Berthoud, drop the pot off for Britton, who would then provide it to the North Dakota contacts who would usually come down to Colorado to pick it up. Britton would take a cut of the profits for himself.

"The buyers were big Denver Bronco fans, and would sometimes time their trips so they could come to watch the home games in Denver and then take marijuana back with them when they went home," the court records stated.

Britton: Tallman never made it to meeting

Britton, interviewed at length by police Jan. 26, as he sat with detectives outside his home in an investigator's car so as not to upset his ailing wife, said the last time the buyers had come down to buy had been on the weekend of the first football playoff game in January (Jan. 11 and 12). At the time, the buyers had picked up 2 pounds of marijuana and Britton said he had made $100 on the deal.

The relationship as described by Britton to investigators hit a bump in the road Jan. 20 — the day before Tallman would last be seen alive — when a payment for which Tallman drove to Berthoud to collect from Britton's mailbox turned out, once it was counted back in Lafayette, to be $200 short.

Tallman called Britton several times that day inquiring when they could meet so he could collect the missing money, Britton told police.

"Britton said he was surprised that Nate would be bothered about $200, since Nate had told him he was moving 100 pounds of marijuana a week," the affidavit said.

They agreed to meet at U.S. 287 and County Road 6 at 7 p.m. Jan. 21. And although Britton said Tallman texted him to say he was on his way to that meeting, and that they subsequently spoke by phone — Tallman sounded annoyed, Britton said — he said he waited 40 minutes for Tallman in vain.

But police would know from early on in their investigation that Tallman — or at least his phone — had been in close proximity to Britton that night. Verizon records would show that its last known location was a quarter-mile south of Britton's residence at 1437 County Road 21, Berthoud.

Marijuana brokering

Britton admitted to police in the Jan. 26 interview that he had been making more from serving as a middle-man in the pot deals than he previously indicated, about $800 per pound.

At the time of his disappearance, Tallman was in the process of moving out of the home he shared with friends in Lafayette, up to a mountain home in the 3200 block of Gold Run Road, which was the second home of his friend and Monarch High School classmate, Amir Sadafi. His plan was to live there with Sadafi.

On Jan. 27, police interviewed Sadafi at the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, with members of the Boulder County Drug Task Force participating, and confronted him about information they'd learned concerning alleged marijuana grow activities in which Tallman was involved. Sadafi, according to the affidavit, "was extremely reluctant to tell detectives the whole truth about what parties were involved in the marijuana aspect of Nate's disappearance."

Circling back to Britton the next evening, interviewing him again in the police vehicle as snow fell around them, Britton admitted he "had not been completely honest with detectives before," telling him that he had driven to North Dakota once to deliver pot, and that "he was sorry he ever started 'brokering weed.'"

It was in that conversation that Britton, citing his own diabetes, his wife's cancer and a tough economy, admitted he had been brokering pot deals between Tallman and a small circle of North Dakota buyers for a year and a half, totaling about 12 to 15 deals.

The investigation took detectives to North Dakota, where details of Britton's dealings were confirmed with some of his buyers. His brother, Wayne Britton, of Parshall, N.D., admitted "Rusty has the capability of killing someone and that the things that might anger him enough to do so are if someone messes with his wife, his family or his business."

Russell Britton would tell police that after Tallman failed to arrive for their meeting the night of Jan. 21, he made a pre-planned trip by himself to North Dakota to collect $2,400 he was owed from a prior pot sale. That was just one of several, often conflicting accounts he would give about the planned Jan. 21 rendezvous; his first statement to police had been that he had spotted Tallman $200 in gambling money during a chance meeting at Central City and that Tallman was meeting him to repay that sum.

The next critical interview came Jan. 28, with a friend of Tallman's named Logan Nahmias, 29. Their first efforts to speak with Nahmias had come several days before — at which time Nahmias referred them to an attorney, Chris Griffin. Griffin told police that Nahmias was "too fragile" to talk to police because of concern over his friend's disappearance.

"Nahmias confirmed that he and Nate are in the medical marijuana business together and they supply medical marijuana to patients," the affidavit said. Nahmias had signed a document prepared by Boulder Deputy District Attorney Ken Kupfner assuring that Nahmias would not be prosecuted for pot-related activities if he was truthful.

"Nahmias was aware that on occasion, Nate would sell multiple pounds of marijuana to a male party named 'Rusty,'" the affidvait said. Rusty, police knew, was Britton.

Nahmias then admitted to providing Tallman six and a half pounds of marijuana Jan. 20 to sell to Britton, for $16,250, for which Tallman would get $650 for brokering the deal.

Nahmias said he gave Tallman the pot in a black duffel bag, the marijuana packed in vacuum-sealed bags.

The affidavit shows that Nahmias — after a subsequent conversation in which Tallman tried unsuccessfully to get another one and a half pounds, also for Britton — told police he never spoke to his friend again.

Britton had another visit with police Jan. 31, when he went to the Lafayette Police Department to reclaim his cell phone, which he had voluntarily surrendered earlier. He was interviewed yet again, at which time he acknowledged having made a last-minute request of Tallman for a couple of extra pounds of pot — which he would then be ferrying, himself, to North Dakota.

In their final conversation, Britton claimed, "Nate told him he was extremely busy, that it was a pain in the (expletive,) but that he would call Britton when he got there or was close," the affidavit said.

'Haul me to jail'

One of the most pivotal interviews police conducted came Feb.1, following a police search of Britton's Berthoud home, during which about $14,000 in cash was found secreted in various locations. Outside a Starbucks in Firestone that day, Britton was confronted with the many inconsistencies in his statements. Volunteering that he had some theories about what had happened, he also blurted words to the effect, "Haul me to jail."

It was in that conversation that Britton first told police about Ortiz, with whom he had previously performed contracting jobs associated with his tiling business. And they had discussed the marijuana trade, with Ortiz saying a man he called both his "homie" and brother-in-law had connections that could beat Tallman's prices.

Ortiz came to learn many details of Britton's dealings with Tallman, police would be told, including the type of car Tallman drove, and when Britton would typically make his runs to North Dakota. Ortiz had even gone there with him once.

Maybe Ortiz and his brother-in-law were lying "in the bushes" at the time of his scuttled Jan. 21 meeting with Tallman, Britton theorized to investigators. "Maybe they put two and two together and tried to intercept my source." He said they were people associated with "pieces," guns, and that he was afraid of them because of that.

Britton had made no mention of Ortiz and his associates earlier, he admitted to police, because he was afraid of them.

The investigation showed, however, that Britton had met the afternoon of Tallman's disappearance with the man later identified as Mendez, verified through surveillance footage of the black Cadillac he was driving, from a Conoco station that captured images from the parking lot of a nearby Blockbuster Video.

In that interview with Britton outside the Starbucks, police also noted that Britton was emotional, began to stutter, admitting that as far as he knew, he "was the last (expletive) to talk to Nate," and, according to the affidavit, that "he was absolutely certain that he didn't knock anybody over the head or drive a car over a cliff."

It was that day that police took possession of Britton's Ford van, explaining it would be processed by forensic investigators, and asked him if they would find any of Tallman's blood or hair inside it. He assured them they would not.

On Feb. 6, CBI crime scene investigators conducted the examination of Britton's truck and detected blood in several locations inside it. On Feb. 13, they would learn that according to CBI lab agent Rosalind Ekx, those blood samples would show a genetic match to Tallman.

One month later, on March 13, police would learn about the discovery that morning by a county highway road grader of Tallman's body alongside Highway 85 in Wyoming, near the Nebraska state line.

Tallman's Mistubishi Lancer was discovered Feb. 13, mud splatters on its sides and in its wheel wells, outside an office complex at 75 Manhattan St. in Boulder. Police would ultimately learn that Mendez's sister-in-law, Ashley Mendez, worked there, at Mindful Pediatrics.

She told police when contacted, a few days later, that she didn't know Britton or how Tallman's vehicle ended up at her workplace.

When Britton finally told police why Tallman's blood was in his van, he admitted that Ortiz knew concrete details of his plans to meet Tallman for a deal at his home the night of Jan. 21.

"Britton also admitted Daniel (Ortiz) knew Nate was a white boy and that he'd be coming to Britton's home at 7 or 8 p.m. Britton said he told Daniel multiple times that he had a done deal going for the night of Jan. 21st, 2014," the affidavit stated.

Britton would be arrested March 14. Mendez would be taken into custody in San Diego the next day, and, several days later, Ortiz — already in custody in Denver on a parole violation — was also subsequently arrested in the case.

Mendez and Ortiz both were charged with first-degree murder, robbery and aggravated motor-vehicle theft. Britton is charged with first-degree murder, being an accessory to murder, robbery, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute 5 to 100 pounds, and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute 5 to 50 pounds.

All three suspects remain in custody on bond, and their preliminary hearing is set for May 27.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.