A former Montana State University football player was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty Monday to distributing the prescription drug Xanax last year in Bozeman.

Appearing via video from California, 21-year-old Naijiel Hale pleaded guilty to felony distribution of dangerous drugs in Gallatin County District Court.

The plea came as part of a deal in which the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office dropped additional felony charges of criminal distribution and tampering with evidence and misdemeanor drug possession in exchange for Hale’s guilty plea.

Gallatin County District Judge Rienne McElyea ordered that Hale pay a $2,500 fine to the Missouri River Drug Task Force and to complete 100 hours of community service. He received credit for one day he served in jail on the charges.

Hale, the son of rapper Nate Dogg, was arrested in April along with 21-year-old Bobcat teammate Darren Gardenhire. Also originally charged with multiple felony drug counts, Gardenhire pleaded guilty in July to felony criminal possession of dangerous drugs. Gardenhire received an identical sentence to Hale.

Hale and Gardenhire were players on the MSU football team at the time of their arrests. Bobcats Coach Jeff Choate immediately suspended the two after news of the charges.

According to charging documents:

In February of 2017, an informant with the Missouri River Drug Task Force arranged to buy Xanax from Hale.

For the first purchase, Hale had the informant meet his “brother,” later identified as Gardenhire. Gardenhire then gave the informant Xanax for money.

For a second purchase, Hale again sent another man to do the exchange. However, surveillance showed Gardenhire, Hale and a woman in the area where the deal occurred.

At Monday’s hearing, Hale admitted to facilitating one of the transactions with the confidential informant.

“I truly learned from my mistake, and I would like to move forward and get back focused on my football career,” Hale told McElyea during Monday’s hearing.

Hale’s supervision was transferred to California, where he said he is living, working part-time at his family’s restaurant and is enrolled in school at Cerritos College. Hale said he hopes to transfer to a university to play football.

“I’m feeling good, just ready to move forward,” Hale told the judge.

Both the Gallatin County Attorney’s Office and Hale’s defense attorney Todd Whipple recommended the four-year deferred sentence. Gallatin County Deputy Attorney Bjorn Boyer said probation and the fine are “substantial” punishments. And Whipple agreed, saying that Hale had gotten caught up in an “issue he didn’t necessarily need to get involved with.”

Hale started two games as a freshman at the University of Washington in 2014 and appeared in 14 before being kicked off the team.

Hale did not play football in 2015 and arrived at MSU in the summer of 2016. He missed all but two games in 2016 because of injury.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

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