Six people out of a dozen facing federal charges of trafficking methamphetamine in the Bakken oil field along the Montana and North Dakota border are residents of small Montana towns.
The six Montanans pleaded not guilty to charges during arraignments in Billings on Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby. The six and several others are in custody at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility.
The Montana defendants include Robert John Ferrell, 51, of Fairview; Kera Dawn Evans, 30, of Three Forks; Lloyd Leon Westervelt, 37, of Big Timber; and Jennie Lynn Britt, 33, of Sidney, who were all charged in a 10-count indictment that contained drug trafficking and firearms crimes.
Keith Edward Lester, 44, and his son, Kyle Edward Lester, 25, both of Sidney, were charged in a two-count indictment with conspiracy and drug possession crimes.
Indictments unsealed Wednesday said Robert Ferrell Armstrong, 49, also known as “Dr. Bob,” of Spokane, Wash., obtained wholesale amounts of meth in Washington and, using a network of distributors and couriers, distributed the drug in Montana. Armstrong was named in the 10-count indictment and pleaded not guilty Wednesday.
The other defendants include Sean Michael Vaira, 30, of Williston, N.D.; Jaime Alberto Garza, 42, of Othello, Wash; Enrique Lopez Solano, 39, of Warden, Wash.; and Samuel Davis Everson III, 47, of Fairview, N.D. Everson made an initial appearance in North Dakota on Monday and is being transferred to Montana.
A twelfth defendant, Marco Antonio Morales-Roa, 28, of Fairview, has been charged by complaint with immigration violations.
Authorities say the ring began operating in April 2012, with meth being distributed at Sidney, Fairview, Billings, Columbus, Big Timber, Livingston, Bozeman, Whitehall, Missoula and other places.
Some of the conspiracy counts carry maximum penalties of a mandatory minimum 10 years to life in prison and a possible $10 million fine.
Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said the drug ring tried to exploit the Bakken region’s booming economy but was broken up by law enforcement working to stop rising crime rates in the oil field.
The investigation was a team effort involving the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and local law enforcement in Richland County and the city of Sidney.