John Lawrence Gopher Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Great Falls, on August 23, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon, JOHN LAWRENCE GOPHER, a 34-year-old resident of Great Falls, pled guilty to robbery affecting commerce and being an unlawful user of controlled substance in possession of a firearm. Sentencing has been set for December 10, 2012. He is currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica A. Betley, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On February 21, 2012, around 10:00 p.m., the Great Falls Police were alerted to a robbery at the Eagles Lodge. It was reported that three men had robbed a female employee at gun point and then sprayed her in the face with pepper spray. Officers arrived to find the employee absolutely hysterical. She was sobbing and told officers she believed she was going to be shot during the robbery.
Officers began their investigation and found $3,961 had been stolen from the money drawers. The inside of the building also smelled of pepper spray so badly that the police called the Great Falls Fire and Rescue in order to aerate the room. Police interviewed the victim two days later because she was too upset to speak until that point.
According to the victim, the last customer left the bar around 9:30 p.m. Once the customer left, the victim began to clean the west end of the bar. She did not recall hearing anyone come inside, but heard a male voice tell her to turn around. The victim turned around to see three men who were all dressed in black hooded sweatshirts with their faces fairly covered. One of the men pointed a handgun at the victim and yelled, "where's the money?" She believed two of the men had handguns, but could not identify which ones possessed the guns. Another man pointed a gun at the victim and made her walk to the end of the bar. The victim heard banging and slamming, and eventually one man said, "you'll be okay," and sprayed her in the face with pepper spray. The victim struggled to breathe, found her phone, and ran outside to call police.
On February 23, 2012, the Great Falls Police received a tip that GOPHER may have been involved in the robbery. The tip reported Gopher had bragged that over $2,000 had been stolen in the robbery of the Eagles Lodge. Great Falls police corroborated the assertion that GOPHER robbed the Eagles Lodge with other evidence and interviews. Police also spoke with a former employee of the Eagles Lodge. Sometime before the robbery took place in February, GOPHER elicited information about the Eagles Lodge - specifically where money was stored in the bar and whether there were video cameras.
On February 28, 2012, GOPHER was arrested during a traffic stop. A search of the car revealed two pistols underneath the back seat. GOPHER had possession of both of these pistols immediately prior to the traffic stop. Both pistols were loaded with ammunition in the magazines and each had a round in its chamber.
GOPHER admitted that he had shot one of the pistols in the past and also admitted to being addicted to methamphetamine.
GOPHER faces possible penalties of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 5 years supervised release.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Great Falls Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.