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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Montana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, April 30, 2018

Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement Officials Announce Results of Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative To Fight Violent Crime in Yellowstone County

Yellowstone County PSN Fact SheetBILLINGS – Today, United States Attorney Kurt Alme and Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito announced the preliminary results of collaborative efforts to reduce violent crime in Yellowstone County under the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, including the court appearances and arrests of 17 subjects facing federal or state charges for armed robbery, trafficking methamphetamine, and illegally possessing firearms. 

Last fall, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed all United States Attorneys to reinvigorate the Department of Justice initiative known as Project Safe Neighborhoods to reduce violent crime in communities.  Since that time, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies launched a Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative for Yellowstone County.  Participating agencies include the Billings and Laurel Police Departments; Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office; Montana Department of Justice Highway Patrol and Division of Criminal Investigation, Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Division, U. S. Marshal’s Service, U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigations, and Homeland Security Investigations.   The initiative also calls for prosecutors from the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, Montana Department of Justice Prosecution Services Division and the U. S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute defendants in both state and federal courts. 

“As I said in Billings on Friday, Project Safe Neighborhoods is proven to work,” Attorney General Sessions said. “Under PSN, I've directed our U.S. Attorneys to target the most violent criminals in the most high-crime areas, and to work with people in the community to develop a customized crime-reduction plan.  That's exactly what U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme has done in Yellowstone county and across Montana. I want to thank him, our federal agents, and all of our fabulous state and local law enforcement partners who have made this initiative a success for the people of Montana. This initiative is more proof that this local, community-based model really works.” 

County Attorney Twito said: “The message of Project Safe Neighborhoods is clear, if you commit armed robbery, push methamphetamine or commit a firearms offense, you will be arrested and you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

A second part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative is to support methamphetamine substance abuse prevention and treatment.  Attorney General Tim Fox, whose office is implementing the AID Montana initiative, stated, “Combating the effects of Montana’s growing substance abuse crisis will take comprehensive and collaborative efforts across the state. I want to thank U.S. Attorney Alme, Chief St. John, County Attorney Twito and Sheriff Linder for their incredible work in Yellowstone County to crack down on violent crime. My office’s Aid Montana initiative will continue to strategically target all aspects of substance abuse in our state, and I look forward to what we will accomplish.”

U. S. Attorney Alme said: “In addition to violent crime, meth is causing our jails to fill, overwhelming our foster care system, overcrowding our treatment facilities, burdening our hospitals, and leaving many in our community with little more than addiction.  All of us in law enforcement want to support the drug courts, probation offices, treatment facilities, schools, health and mental health care facilities, foster care providers, drug prevention groups and other governmental and community organizations in creating a community response to address this problem.  Our goal is to help keep our community safe by supporting those who keep people from using methamphetamine and help users become sober.”

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime in Montana is up almost 35 % through 2016 from its low in 2010.  According to data from the Billings Police Department, violent crime in Billings increased 75 % from 2010 through 2017.  Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

In response, last month, federal, state and local law enforcement began a concerted effort in Yellowstone County to arrest armed robbers, methamphetamine dealers and traffickers, and felons and other prohibited persons not allowed to possess firearms under federal law. 

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. 

All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. 

U.S. Attorney Alme thanked all of the members Project Safe Neighborhoods – Yellowstone County for their work to make the community safer.

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Component(s): 
Contact: 
KERI LEGGETT Acting Public Information Officer (406) 761-7715
Updated May 1, 2018