Caught in Mexico, former Billings fugitive Benjamin Quinn McChesney appeared in federal court Monday on kidnapping, firearms and other charges.
McChesney pleaded not guilty to two indictments and waived a preliminary hearing on a criminal complaint during a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby. She ordered him to remain in custody.
The indictments will be heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, while the complaint will be presented to a grand jury for indictment.
Federal prosecutors say McChesney kidnapped his wife and a minor child in May 2011 and fled to Mexico to avoid trial in state court on felony drug charges.
On the lam for almost 20 months, McChesney, 35, was tracked by deputy marshals to Mexico and, with help from local authorities, was arrested on Jan. 12 in Guanajuato, in central Mexico.
McChesney’s wife, Meagan McChesney-Doval, and a child left Billings with him in May 2011, days before trial in which Meagan McChesney was expected to be a witness. When the McChesneys got to Laredo, Texas, McChesney allegedly pulled knife on his wife and told her she was not free to go, court records said.
The couple and child then crossed into Mexico by foot and eventually went to Guanajuato, where McChesney rented an apartment. Meagan McChesney and the child escaped, and Meagan was arrested in July 2011 at the border when she tried to return to the United States. The child was placed in protective custody.
The kidnapping indictment, filed in January 2012, accuses McChesney of confining Meagan McChesney to prevent her from testifying against him in court. McChesney also was not a relative of the child and did not have legal custody of the child.
McChesney was twice accused in 2010 of assaulting his wife, who recanted her statement in the first assault. The second assault allegation led to marijuana charges against McChesney.
Filed in July 2011, the criminal complaint charges McChesney with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution and punishment for fleeing the state charges.
Another five-count indictment names McChesney in four of the counts, including conspiracy to use firearms in relation to drug trafficking, theft of firearms from a licensed dealer, theft of firearms in interstate commerce and possession of stolen firearms. The indictment, filed in June 2012, remains sealed pending arraignment of all co-defendants.
McChesney has been linked to the August 2010 theft of 133 pistols, shotguns and rifles from Conway Freight Co., in Billings, when thieves broke into several freight trucks and stole what is believed to be the largest cache of firearms in state history.
The firearms heist also was behind the shooting in December 2010 of Lindsey Schmaing of Billings near a storage unit off Underpass Avenue. Charged with the shooting, Crystal Lundberg pleaded guilty in March 2012 to aggravated assault and tampering in a last-minute plea agreement shortly before trial in state District Court. Lundberg was sentenced to 35 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.
Court records alleged that the shooting may have been an attempt to silence Schmaing, who since changed her surname to Smith, about the gun theft.
McChesney is suspected of having been among a group of people, including Schmaing, who went to California and traded some of the stolen guns for drugs and money. At the time, McChesney was awaiting trial in Yellowstone County on felony marijuana charges.
McChesney is no stranger to federal court. He spent five years in federal prison for a drug conviction before successfully arguing on his own behalf that he deserved a new trial. Prosecutors declined to retry him, and he was released in 2009.
Kidnapping carries a maximum punishment of life in prison and a possible $250,000 fine, while kidnapping involving a minor carries a punishment of 20 years to life in prison and a possible $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to carry a firearm in relation to drug trafficking carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine.