Violent crime in Montana is up almost 35% through 2016 from its low in 2010 according to the FBI. And that figure is much higher in Billings. Law enforcement officials say methamphetamine is behind that uptick.
To address the issue, various law enforcement officials are pooling their resources with prosecutors to go after the perpetrators of these crimes.
The nationwide effort is known as Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). The goal is to target the most violent criminals in the most high crime areas. It directs U.S. Attorneys General to work with other stakeholders to come up with their own plan of action.
Last Friday in Billings, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thanked U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana Kurt Alme for his efforts in Yellowstone County and across Montana.
On Monday, Alme held a press conference to follow up on Sessions’ visit. Flanked by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and prosecutors, Alme outlined PSN efforts in Montana.
He says in this state it’s about meth and Billings and Yellowstone County. Alme says meth is behind the rapidly growing rates of property and violent crimes, as well as impacting other areas.
“It is filling our jails, it is overwhelming our foster care system, it is overcrowding our treatment facilities, it’s burdening our health and mental health care and it’s trapping people in our communities to addiction,” Alme says.
According to the press release, violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John says while Montana’s violent crime rate is up by almost 35%, in Billings that figure for the same period is closer to 75%. He says many of those cases involve some type of drug and a firearm and is exacerbated by methamphetamine.
“The meth we are seeing is direct source from Mexico, it’s virtually 100% pure, it’s readily available, relatively inexpensive, and the demand is significant. Combine that with guns and dangerous offenders and people get hurt and the numbers show that,” St John says.
“Our drug unit reports that meth seizures for the first quarter of 2018 have surpassed for all of 2017,” St. John says. “And not a day goes by that officers are not sent on a call involving a firearm.”
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox adds law enforcement alone isn’t going to be the silver bullet in addressing this issue. Still he has this warning for meth traffickers.
“To those criminals taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of others I have a message: you are not safe and we are coming for you. We will find you and we will prosecute you,” Fox says.
And that’s exactly what was announced at the press conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Billings.
Alme said federal, state and local law enforcement officials last month began their concerted effort in Yellowstone County.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office the following suspects have recently been arrested under the Project Safe Neighborhoods Yellowstone County initiative and have appeared in federal and state courts on the following charges:
- Christopher Alan Esrey, 31, from Billings, for robbery;
- Dante King, 35, from Oakland, California, for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person;
- Dustin Houston, 35, from Billings, for trafficking methamphetamine and carrying or possessing a firearm;
- Maurice Joseph Fregia, AKA Frosty, 31, from Manteca, California, for trafficking methamphetamine;
- Chad Allen Beres, 31, from Manteca, California, for trafficking methamphetamine;
- Daniel Ellis Pappas, 51, from Billings, for trafficking methamphetamine;
- Molly May Fogle, 19, from Billings, for trafficking methamphetamine;
- John Cameron Swift 51, from Billings, for trafficking methamphetamine and carrying a gun;
- Scott Allen Wortman, 46, from Billings, for trafficking methamphetamine and heroin, and carrying a gun;
- Brian Pretty Weasel, 29, from Billings, for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person;
- Lance Ratcliff, 32, from Natrona County Wyoming, for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person;
- Lionel Duane Bennett, 54, from Billings, for trafficking methamphetamine and carrying a firearm;
- Joshua Allen Kroll, 37, from Billings, for endangering the welfare of a child and trafficking and possessing multiple controlled substances including methamphetamine, cocaine, oxycodone, hashish, mushrooms, marijuana, zolpidem, methylphenidate, diazepam, tramadol, and temazepam;
- Tabitha Lydia Marie Delao, 34, for endangering the welfare of a child and trafficking and possessing multiple controlled substances including methamphetamine, cocaine, oxycodone, hashish, mushrooms, marijuana, zolpidem, methylphenidate, diazepam, tramadol, and temazepam.
In addition, the United States Marshal’s Violent Crime Task Force has arrested three additional subjects on Yellowstone County warrants related to Project Safe Neighborhood offenses, i.e., those involving methamphetamine trafficking, armed robbery, or various federal gun crimes.
Alme said Project Safe Neighborhoods also has a component that also focuses on substance abuse prevention and addiction treatment.