Wolf Point Herald

Cotter, Fox Launch “Project Safe Bakken”

Several law enforcement agencies met at a press conference in Billings Oct. 11 to discuss an operation to fight crime on the Bakken oil field.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Michael Cotter and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced “Project Safe Bakken.”

Launched in September by Cotter and Fox, “Project Safe Bakken” is a collaborative effort involving state, federal and tribal law enforcement in North Dakota and Montana to detect and stop drug trafficking organizations in the Bakken oil patch in eastern Montana and western North Dakota.

Law enforcement agencies such as the United States Attorneys for Montana and North Dakota; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Homeland Security; and local law enforcement have joined forces to share intelligence, coordinate investigations and combat crime in the Bakken region and the communities surrounding the area.

In a statement, Fox said the project was not revealed to the public until the arrests and indictments were made in the cases that were unsealed last week.

“’Project Safe Bakken’ illustrates how well agencies at all levels can partner to get things accomplished,” Fox said. “This operation will ultimately have a major impact on crime and drugs in eastern Montana, thanks to the collaborative work of our Division of Criminal Investigations, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, the Sidney Police Department and our federal partners.”

Although there are multiple agencies collaborating on the project, the fight against crime has not been easy. U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon said that increase in the population will equal more crime. He also said the federal shutdown makes things worse.

“We’re in this very, very serious fight against organized crime for control of the streets of the oil patch, and I’ve got about half of my employees home on furlough,” Purdon said. “We’re in this fight right now with one arm tied behind our back.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Fox said that agencies have been playing catch-up with the changes in the oil patch over the years. He also said the benefits from the boom have been substantial. Eastern Montana and western North Dakota have seen an increase of more than 20,000 people since oil production rose in 2008 and more than 10,000 additional people are expected in the years to come.

FBI crime reports show that Montana’s four Bakken counties had a 64 percent increase in violent crime and a 63 percent increase in property crime between 2009 and 2012; however both categories have shown decreases in other areas of Montana.

One of the successes of the project has been the recent arrest and charging of several suspects in a drug ring on the oil patch.

According to the Associated Press, 12 people were indicted in Montana federal court and four in North Dakota federal court, on federal charges alleging they were involved in a drug ring that distributed methamphetamine in the Bakken oil patch, along the North Dakota border. The ring has also supposedly distributed drugs in other Montana cities and towns including Sidney, Fairview, Billings, Big Timber, Columbus, Livingston and Bozeman.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to drugs and weapons charges during their initial appearances in federal court and they were issued public defenders. Defendants include residents of Montana, Washington state and North Dakota, ranging in age from 28 to 49.

The previous investigations have been a collaborative effort between the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, Richland County law enforcement and the city of Sidney.

Back in July, North Dakota federal court charged 22 people with conspiracy to sell heroin and other drugs on a Native American reservation in the oil patch. Authorities liked that case to a national drug trafficking run that was seeking to make connections to the Bakken oil region.

During the press conference, authorities said more arrests are in the works.

 

Defendants

The following defendants were arraigned during a federal court session in Billings, Oct. 9. Not all of the defendants have entered pleas at this time.

Jennie Lynn Britt, 33, of Sidney, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

Robert Ferrell Armstrong, 49, of Moses Lake, Wash., was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

Robert John Ferrell, 51, of Fairview, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine.

Kara Dawn Evans, 33, of Big Timber, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine  and to possess methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

Lloyd Leon Westervelt, 37, of Big Timber, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and to possess metamphetamine with the intent to distribute, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

Samuel Everson III, 47, of Fairview, was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine.

Enrique Lopez Solano, 39, of Warden, Wash., was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine

Jaime Alberto Garza, 42, of Othello, Wash., was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Keith Edward Lester, 44, of Sidney, was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine

Kyle Edward Lester, 25, of Sidney, was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine

Sean Michael Vaira, 30, of Billings, was charged with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine

Marco Morales-Roa, 28, of Fairview, was arrested on a complaint for re-entry of a removed alien in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326 (a) and (b) 1.

Lynn Marie Starr, of Parshall, N.D., was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Anthony Alan Starr, of Parshall, N.D., was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Blue Sky Starr, of New Town, N.D., was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine.

Chadwick Leo Cummings, New Town, N.D., was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and distribution of heroin.