BILLINGS — A dozen people have been indicted on federal charges alleging they were involved in a ring that distributed methamphetamine in the Bakken oil patch along the North Dakota border, and in other cities and towns across Montana, authorities said.
Federal indictments unsealed Wednesday said Washington state resident Robert Ferrell Armstrong, also known as “Dr. Bob,” obtained pure methamphetamine in his home state to distribute through a network of couriers across Montana.
Authorities say the ring began operating in April 2012 and distributed drugs in Sidney, Fairview, Billings, Big Timber, Columbus, Livingston and Bozeman. Several people who were indicted face potential prison terms of 10 years to life if convicted.
During initial appearances in federal court, the defendants pleaded not guilty to drug and weapons charges and were appointed public defenders. They include residents of Montana, Washington and North Dakota, ranging in age from 28 to 49.
Michael Cotter, the U.S. attorney for Montana, said the drug ring sought to exploit the Bakken region’s booming economy, but it was broken up by authorities working to curtail rising crime rates in the oil patch. Four more people were arrested and made initial court appearances in North Dakota for similar but unrelated drug offenses, he said.
Cotter declined to say if the Montana-centered ring was part of a larger network. But he promised more arrests in the future as other criminal investigations continue in the Bakken.
“This is the first of many groups and individuals that are going to be indicted,” he said.
State and federal officials said the investigation was a cooperative effort involving the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, and local law enforcement in Richland County and the city of Sidney, which are in the heart of the Bakken oil patch.
“This is a model example of how to tackle crime in the Bakken,” said Anastasia Burton, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. “We’re proud the (Division of Criminal Investigation) team played an integral role in helping make Montana safer.”
The indictments did not reveal the total quantity of drugs involved in the Montana case. But at least six of the defendants were charged with possessing 50 grams or more of pure meth and 500 grams or more of a substance containing some amount of meth.
Federal and state law enforcement have sought to ramp up their presence in the Bakken in recent years. That includes bringing in more officers and agents to deal with a spike in crime that’s been seen as thousands of workers pour into once-quiet communities affected by the boom.
Last year, after Sidney High School teacher Sherry Arnold was abducted from a city street and killed, Cotter’s office convened a retreat for police, sheriffs, federal agents and other law enforcement to craft a strategy to deal with rising crime.
Cotter said Wednesday that cooperation between law enforcement agencies was helping to target and disrupt drug trafficking organizations that would seek to capitalize on the boom.
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