Charges in Billings rape case catch neighbors, employer by surprise

2013-08-26T22:00:00Z 2014-04-02T12:33:15Z Charges in Billings rape case catch neighbors, employer by surpriseBy ROB ROGERS The Billings Gazette

It was a lot of commotion for a Friday afternoon.

Dark-colored SUVs, patrol cars and at least one crime scene investigation van pulling up on the street, with law enforcement officials dressed in bullet-proof vests pouring out and running over to a weather-worn two-story white house on the corner. 

Florentina Jaynes watched it all from her porch across the street. It wasn't long before crime scene technicians were carting away boxes and bags of possessions from the home. 

"We were just watching, wondering what happened," she said. 

Jaynes lives on South 30th Street, kitty-corner to Toby Eugene Griego, the man arrested Friday in connection with two recent home-invasion rapes, part of a monthslong, high-profile investigation by the Billings Police.

The news caught many off-guard, including the family that lived below Griego in the house they rented. 

"To be honest, he was a straight-up guy," said downstairs neighbor Richard White.

"I had him watch my kids and everything," he said. "He was good with 'em."

With Griego's arrest, specific details of the crimes started spilling out. Griego worked from October until May in the warehouse for Billings' Mattress Land USA, where he delivered mattresses. 

Investigators believe Griego delivered a mattress to at least one of the victims, a horrifying revelation for Mattress Land owner and president Craig Barthel.

"Our hearts go out to the victims," he said. "My heart goes out to the victims."

Griego was employee of the month twice while he worked for Mattress Land, once in October and again in January. Barthel said Griego worked hard and got along well with coworkers. 

There was nothing in his conduct that was a red flag, he said. 

"This was the last thing you expected from this guy," he said. 

Griego is a registered sex offender in Montana based on his criminal history in New Mexico, which includes convictions for rape in commission of another felony, aggravated burglary and robbery.

Barthel said the company does some background checking when it hires warehouse workers, but that's now being reevaluated. He said he and other company officials met Monday morning to evaluate their hiring process and other policies. 

"We at no time knew he was a registered sex offender," Barthel said. "Otherwise, we wouldn't have hired him."

Barthel and his wife started the company 12 years ago. They make 2,000 deliveries a year and until now they've never had any kind of incident with an employee, he said.  

The news was disturbing to learn, he said. 

Back in Griego's neighborhood, White described his neighbor as quiet and genial, someone who would politely ask how his day went and how his kids were doing. White said he had a hard time believing police had the right guy. 

Before renting rooms in the same house on South 30th Street, Griego and White lived in the same apartment complex across town. White, his girlfriend and their kids got along well with Griego, who also has a child of his own and a girlfriend who is expecting, White said.

In the evenings, when White would come home from work, he would find Griego already home, passing the evening. 

"We'd sit out here," White said. "Drank beer with him."

Investigators are convinced they have the right man. One of the last pieces of evidence they were able to collect in their investigation were photos of the two victims Griego had on his phone.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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