A Billings man serving a federal sentence for firearms denied new weapons charges in the theft of more than 130 guns from a Billings trucking facility two years ago.
The heist has been linked to a gunfight on Underpass Avenue in December 2010 in which a woman was seriously wounded.
Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby on Monday, Lloyd John Romero, 29, pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment. The indictment was filed last June but remained sealed until Romero’s arraignment.
Romero’s co-defendant, Benjamin Quinn McChesney, 35, pleaded not guilty to the charges last month after having been arrested in Mexico and returned to Billings to face kidnapping and other charges, along with the firearms charges. The two men are the only defendants in the indictment.
Romero and McChesney are charged with conspiracy to use firearms in relation to drug trafficking, theft of firearms from a licensed dealer, theft of firearms in interstate commerce, possession of stolen firearms and felon in possession of firearms.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed Zink said in the indictment that McChesney and Romero broke into Conway Freight on Aug. 3, 2010, forcibly entered a freight trailer and stole 136 firearms belonging to Big Rock Sports. The North Carolina-based company, a licensed gun dealer, supplies sporting goods to retailers and has a distributor in Billings.
The pair loaded the firearms into a getaway vehicle and left Montana for California, where they swapped the guns for drugs and money, the indictment said.
The indictment lists each of the 136 firearms, which included rifles, shotguns and mostly pistols.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which investigated the case, said earlier that at least 10 of the firearms had been recovered in another state.
Four months after the theft, Lindsey Schmaing of Billings was shot near the storage unit off Underpass Avenue. Charged with the shooting, Crystal Lundberg pleaded guilty in March 2012 to aggravated assault and tampering and was sentenced in state District Court to 35 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.
Court records alleged that the shooting may have been an attempt to silence Schmaing about the gun theft.
Romero is in federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm for having two semi-automatic pistols. He was sentenced to 18 months in each case with the terms to run consecutively. His release date on those convcitions is Sept. 5.
Romero previously was convicted in May 2004 in federal court of selling defaced firearms and was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
If convicted in the latest case, Romero faces a maximum of 20 years and a possible $250,000 fine on the conspiracy count. He remains in custody. The case will be heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull.