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Signal Peak Mine was revealed to be the target of a fraud ring Thursday in U.S. District Court where a West Virginia man pleaded guilty to ensnaring the coal company in a bogus $2.3 million equipment scam.

Zachary Madison Ruble pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Previously from Tazewell, Virginia, the 39-year-old conspired with others to arrange a fake equipment sale between Signal Peak and Peter’s Equipment Company, of Virginia.

Ruble admitted to knowing that the sale was phony, that Peter’s would never deliver the equipment and that the $2.3 million would be transferred by Peter’s to Larry Price Jr.

Price is the man behind a $10 million, 26,000-square-foot mansion in Billings who pleaded guilty in December to federal charges of wire fraud, money laundering and lying to federal investigators. He made headlines in April 2018 after faking his abduction in an attempt to flee his legal troubles and family with the help of a mistress. None of Price's earlier charges involved the fake equipment sale Ruble pleaded guilty to Thursday.

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Both Price and Ruble are from the Tazewell area. Price was in charge of the refined coal program at Signal Peak, where he was vice president of surface activities.

Prosecutors told the court they had a plea agreement with Ruble, who was cooperating with a larger investigation. The money taken from Signal Peak was funneled through 3 Solutions LLC, a Montana company owned by Price.

As part of the plea agreement, Ruble must surrender his proceeds related to the crime, namely a Rolex watch and a motor home.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.