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A man accused of the rape and online harassment of multiple women has, for the third time, been arrested on accusations that he continued to stalk victims.

Leslie Dean Ernst, 57, had faced sentencing for five counts of felony privacy in communications. He'd been free on a posted bond since November.

He was arrested on Tuesday with a $50,000 bench warrant after one of Ernst's previous alleged victims told police in April that he was contacting her again using fake Facebook accounts.

It's the third time Ernst has been arrested in this case and the second time he's been accused of harassing women online after posting bond for release. While the case started in 2013, it wasn't until November 2016 that  the court ordered him to avoid using computers.

In an April 27 police report, a Billings detective said that the previous alleged victim contacted him about "suspicious" Facebook activity. With this woman and multiple others, Ernst used false social media accounts to make contact, according to court documents.

This time, the woman suspected that two friend requests came from fake accounts run by Ernst. With a search warrant, the detective linked the profiles to three IP addresses owned by Ernst, according to the police report.

The detective identified at least eight false names Ernst used on Facebook, according to the report. Some of them used the same account but changed names.

In one account named "Ashley," the profile identifies the person as a woman but the "About" section says that "I'm a cool guy ... "

Another account allegedly used by Ernst uses a profile photo belonging to an area high school student. That boy's photo was used by Ernst for multiple fake accounts, according to the police report.

In her report, the detective said he also found that Ernst tried to contact another alleged victim nearly a year ago, again using a fake online account.

"Not only was Ernst committing new crimes while out on bond, he also had contacted a victim in the currently charged case," wrote Billings Police Detective Denise Baum.

Charges: Stalking persisted for years

Ernst, a longtime Billings resident, had for years run an elder care business out of his home. His personal Facebook account, parts of which remain public, contains mostly posts that draw from multiple mainstream religions.

His interest extends to non-mainstream religion as well. Detective Baum noted in her report that, based on her investigations, Ernst has shown a "strong fascination with Satanism, the Occult" and other beliefs.

He was convicted in 1995 of four counts of privacy in communications, and investigators have since found victims dating back to 1984, according to court documents. 

The current case against Ernst went unprosecuted for years before he was first charged in 2013. Those allegations span back to 2004.

It began with one woman who reported in 2004 that Ernst raped her when she was 17, court documents state. No charges were filed, even after police searched Ernst's home within a month.

The woman made another report in 2008 and still no charges followed. By the time a renewed investigation started in 2010, that same woman said Ernst had relentlessly stalked her for years.

Then more women came forward. One more alleged Ernst raped her and four reported online and phone harassment. Investigators traced all of the communication back to Ernst, charges state.

The pattern of fake Facebook profiles persisted throughout each woman's report. One of the alleged rape victims said Ernst used a fake profile to blackmail her into sleeping with him.

Ernst had at one point been charged with two counts of sexual intercourse without consent, one count of stalking and multiple counts of privacy in communications, all felonies.

A November plea agreement amended the charges to five counts of privacy in communications, none of which are sexual offenses. Prosecutors recommended 25 years in prison with a 15-year parole restriction.

Ernst has been released and arrested twice since he was first charged. After his initial arrest in 2013, Ernst posted bond and was released. Then in October 2016, he was arrested again after a woman in Kalispell accused him of online harassment.

After he pleaded guilty to the amended charges a month later, he again posted bond and was released. This time he was ordered not to use computers, smartphones or the internet.

But with Tuesday's arrest, he's now accused of trying to contact another woman online since his release.

Ernst's attorney, Penelope Strong, said Thursday at a Yellowstone County District Court hearing that Ernst plans to deny the new allegations.

Juli Pierce, the lead prosecutor in the case, was out of the office this week and did not return a message by press time.

Judge Rod Souza ordered a $50,000 bond — the same amount Ernst has previously posted.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.