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This article was published in the Feb. 23, 1998 issue of The Washington Weekly.
 

Murder and Drug Running in Montana
Local Residents Allege FBI and State Government Complicity

Northern Montana is a vast, remote, sparsely inhabited area. The small towns of Shelby, Havre, Chinook, and Wolf Point stretch out to the East along State Highway 2, from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains into the western Great Plains. For most such rural areas in the United States crime is rare and murder almost unheard of. Things are different along the Hi-line, the Burlington Northern railroad [2]. In the past week I have spoken to nearly a dozen people who are eyewitnesses to an almost unbelievable crime wave in this area over the past 10 years. The catalyst for this crime wave, according to these sources, is a huge smuggling operation that brings drugs into the U.S. from across the Canadian border, a few miles to the North.

These sources say the Hi-Line area has become a major entry point for South and Central American drugs for a number of reasons. First, it is very remote and the nearby Canadian border is almost unguarded. This is in marked contrast to the heavily guarded, heavily traveled border with Mexico. Another factor is the long-time presence in the state of a well-known Mafia family, with its system of enforcers and ties to friendly financial institutions. Also, the presence of Indian reservations in the area causes jurisdictional problems for local law enforcement, and the poverty on the reservations makes drug trafficking attractive to some residents. But perhaps the most important factor is the availability of protection from corrupt state and local officials.

My sources come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They are not members of right-wing militias; nor are they haters of the U.S. Government. They are ordinary American citizens--lawyers, journalists, former police officers, and residents of the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian Reservations. These courageous people have been the victims of harassment, intimidation, blackmail, beatings, and false criminal charges. Some of them have had to flee Montana and establish residence in other states. Many of these people described in detail how their lives have become a nightmare because they opposed the rampant corruption in their communities. I am very grateful to those who agreed to speak on the record. I am sympathetic to those who could not. As one woman told me, "those who get quoted have a high mortality rate."

* * *

Mike Perry moved to Chinook in July of 1984. He owned and operated the Chinook Opinion for 13 years. Perry and his wife sold the newspaper and moved to Iowa in December 1997. The following interview was conducted on February 17.

QUESTION: At what point did you become aware that there was organized illegal activity in the Chinook area?

PERRY: Somewhere around 1986. A fellow working at the radio station, Kerry Lindblad, came into my office one day. He said "I just saw the weirdest thing last night. A guy snorted a line of white powder up his nose in a local bar. I think it was cocaine." About that time Jerry Liese, who was an officer with the police department, came in and started talking about airplanes landing in the middle of the night at the airport. He mentioned that he and another officer saw a banker drive up to the plane and do an exchange of luggage. The banker then drove to the house of a prominent resident of Chinook.

QUESTION: Could that have been the house of a local prosecutor?

PERRY: Yes, a former one. That was the catalyst that got me started looking into what was going on. I started to write stories, and that's when I started to have problems with the county attorney and the judges, and the county commissioners and the city council. People came forward and explained that there was a big drug operation going on in this community. These people were petrified. They would come in the back door of my office late at night, making sure nobody would see them.

About that time we had a double homicide, a man by the name of Richard Cowan and his girlfriend, Benardatte Doiron. Richard had violated his probation. There was going to be a hearing over the violation. He spread around to people that he was not going to jail. He was going to rat on this big drug operation that included people in high places in Chinook and Havre. He never showed up in court. This was at the end of January. At the end of February we found out that this man and his girlfriend were buried in the crawlspace of a farmhouse in Blaine County. Circumstances led me to believe there was more to this than the sheriff's office was saying. People started calling me, and I eventually ran onto a person that I think was the last friend of Richard to see them alive, within 30 minutes of their killing. I had to interview this fellow out in the country, because he was afraid for his life. He said Richard had told him, if he gets killed, it's going to be a certain name I refuse to give.

QUESTION: Was this person whom he named an elected official?

PERRY: He was an elected official.

QUESTION: What county would that have been?

PERRY: Blaine County.

QUESTION: Are the local prosecutors elected there?

PERRY: They are. What finally broke this case was that the girlfriend of one of the murderers was getting beaten up by her boyfriend. She turned him into the cops. The murderers were Bobby Bone and James Wilson.

QUESTION: Did they finger someone else who was behind the murders?

PERRY: Yes and no.

QUESTION: The story I was told was that a Mr. Ranstrom, the local prosecutor, took them out of jail in the middle of the night and worked out a plea agreement with them.

PERRY: That's my understanding. The so-called written confession by Wilson and Bone was written by an attorney. I'm 100% certain I know who wrote that. These guys pleaded guilty to first degree murder--they pleaded to fifty years in jail. Nobody in their right mind would do that unless something was promised to them. That was one thing that really bothered me--run your dope, but don't murder people to protect your empire. I'm positive I know who was behind the killing, from the person I interviewed out in the country. He described the people who were there just before the killing.

QUESTION: What was the motive for the killing?

PERRY: The motive was to keep these people quiet about the big drug operation, there's no doubt in my mind. The guy I interviewed was buying dope from Richard. He made no bones about it. Richard was a go-between. The guy bought dope from Richard and turned around and sold it. Anyway, one of the guys present just before the killing, by the name of Stuart, was convicted of shooting a highway patrolman because he was interdicting their drug traffic. They didn't manage to kill him, but they sure shot him up. He was building a new house, and his house was also burned down. He finally moved. That was the kind of people we were dealing with.

So I'm starting to investigate, and more and more people are starting to talk to me. It became apparent to me that the people running the drugs had more influence in the community than I did. We could get nothing done. Jerry Liese and I put together a document explaining the whole scenario as we knew it. We went to Pete Dunbar, who was a U.S. Attorney in Billings, and laid it on his desk and told the whole story. He was not interested. We were never questioned by the FBI. We said we would talk, and we asked them to send out an investigator.

QUESTION: What year was that?

PERRY: 1987. Jerry will back this up.

QUESTION: So the U.S. District Attorney wouldn't do anything?

PERRY: No. He never questioned us again.

QUESTION: He would have had FBI resources too, would he not?

PERRY: Oh, yes. At the very least he should have given it to the FBI and told them to evaluate the evidence. After that my life was threatened, bomb threats.

QUESTION: Do you know who was threatening you?

PERRY: I was told. A friend of mine with FBI contacts in Salt Lake City said he was told there was an informant in Chinook who described the meeting and who was there. They were going to blow me up. I was told to check my car for as long as it took. About two weeks later I got a call saying they had cancelled the hit. All five of the people at the meeting, I know, were involved in drug trafficking.

QUESTION: They named the people to you?

PERRY: Yes, they did. Finally, many people started to believe I had some credibility. By that time it was too late. One fellow, whom I think was involved on the other side, vowed he would run me out of town. He started a newspaper, and for three years we had the great Blaine County newspaper war. This guy lost $200,000 to run me out. So I wrote the guy a letter and offered to sell out. And the fool accepted. That's when I decided to move to Iowa. So we did.

QUESTION: What I'm hearing is that certain FBI agents might be involved in this.

PERRY: That's what I think. James Wixon and Scott Cruise were the FBI agents in the Glascow area. Mike Roe, an investigator in Arizona, was hired in a private case. He was up there two different times, and put together two reports. He sent these to the FBI [3]. There was not one thing done, there was not one question asked. Not one FBI agent went into the field to verify or dispute that information he gave to them.

QUESTION: I am being told that the southern border of the United States was effectively closed off to drug trafficking by radar, and the cartels had to find a new route into the country. And the route they found was flying out into the Atlantic and Pacific and up into Canada, and bringing it in from there.

PERRY: Well, I think ships were bringing it in, it was off-loaded in Canada and brought into Montana.

QUESTION: Does anyone have any credible knowledge that someone who was a state Attorney General at that time might have been involved in this? I hear that people went to this fellow, telling him things that were happening and no investigations would be carried out.

PERRY: Well, Mr. Marc Racicot came up himself to try to smooth some things over. People said they had some knowledge of drug trafficking in the community, and they would tell him. But they wouldn't tell him unless I was there. But these people got cold feet. I believe now they were threatened. After a time I came to realize that Mr. Racicot wasn't the fine fellow everyone thought he was. He was protecting--in my mind, and I think others believe this now too--he was protecting certain people in Hill and Blaine counties. I kept trying to figure out why he would protect these people. He was the greatest of friends with these folks, which is no reason for a prosecutor to protect somebody. Either he was being blackmailed, or he was involved in this himself. I can't believe he hated me so much that he would allow murderers and drug traffickers and other criminals to walk free just because he didn't like me [4].

QUESTION: Do you think this will ever get cleared up? Will people be brought to justice?

PERRY: I don't know. They have a good sheriff in Blaine County now. I thought they had a good county attorney, but he's gotten afraid to dig into it. I really don't know.

QUESTION: How many people were murdered on the Fort Peck Reservation in the 13 years you lived in Montana?

PERRY: There were a lot of them. I can't begin to tell you. There were a lot of them.

QUESTION: I've been told it's in the 40's.

PERRY: I would believe that.

QUESTION: Did you know who your friends were, and who your enemies were?

PERRY: Very much so.

* * *

Corrupt Officials Hand Picked For FBI Task Force

Melissa Buckles is a high-ranking member of the Assiniboine-Sioux tribe on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. She has been a Lay Legal Advocate on the Fort Peck Reservation since 1989. Non-Indian sources say she is a descendant of Sitting Bull, and is the possessor of sacred tribal objects that are passed down by tribal leaders from one generation to the next. The following interview was conducted on February 18.

QUESTION: I understand there has been a lot of criminal activity on the Fort Peck Reservation?

BUCKLES: Yes. There have been a number of murders on the reservation, a number of cases involving drugs and missing drug evidence, missing murder evidence. The common thread in all of this is an FBI agent by the name of Scott Cruise, who's been involved in all of this. He was the agent in the Glascow office that's been involved throughout the region, in Sydney and different areas that have investigated murders involving drugs or knowledge of drug activity.

QUESTION: And you think he's involved in this?

BUCKLES: Somehow, some way.

QUESTION: My sources say the drug conspiracy may go to the highest reaches of state government, including the top executive office.

BUCKLES: It may. The information I have has been confirmed by Chip Tatum, who is a CIA contract officer. He had dealings with Terry Nelson when these drug flights were coming in from Canada. He actually took part in some of the flights, with Terry Nelson.

QUESTION: Where were these flights coming from?

BUCKLES: I was told it was Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

QUESTION: Where were they landing?

BUCKLES: According to some they've landed on the Glascow Air Force Base, adjacent to the Fort Peck Reservation.

QUESTION: From there where did the drugs go?

BUCKLES: They were distributed throughout the reservation and the Hi-line area.

QUESTION: What drugs are we talking about?

BUCKLES: Cocaine and marijuana.

QUESTION: How long has this drug smuggling operation been in business?

BUCKLES: Since at least the early '80's. Drugs have been around here since before then. But they're more available now, and people are let go free now.

QUESTION: Which offices do you believe are involved in this?

BUCKLES: I believe that the tribal investigator's office is involved to a certain extent. I believe from the records that I've seen that the Roosevelt County Sheriff's Office may be involved. I believe that the Roosevelt County Attorney's office may be involved. This is all based on the documents I've seen, the information I have. It appears that the FBI may have allowed this to go on unchecked.

QUESTION: Local FBI agents?

BUCKLES: Yes.

QUESTION: One anonymous source mentioned that some of the highest officers in state government may be involved. What evidence is there for that?

BUCKLES: There were some indictments that have gone down in the Chinook area. There was evidence in the Chinook area of clandestine airstrips, clandestine drug flights. There were police officers who reported that they saw cargoes being unloaded. Later on these officers were fired, run out of town. When Mike Perry started publishing these reports in the Chinook Opinion he ran into problems. Everyone who spoke out ran into problems, while those who were supposedly involved got protected. High state officials, when asked, offered no help.

QUESTION: Do you believe your life is in jeopardy?

BUCKLES: It's pretty scary here.

QUESTION: How do you deal with that? Do you have protection?

BUCKLES: I stay high profile. I handle a lot of cases. I'm involved with a lot of organizations--the Sioux Council, the Assiniboine Council.

QUESTION: Do you know who your friends and enemies are?

BUCKLES: Oh yes. That's real clear. You know whom you can trust and whom you can't.

QUESTION: The people who you think are involved in the drug trade, can you tell it in their spending habits, the way they live?

BUCKLES: Oh yes, they have nice new vehicles, which is uncommon, given the economy on the reservation. They live better than other people do.

QUESTION: Have there been recent developments?

BUCKLES: Yes, the FBI from the Glascow office approached the Tribal Council last week with a memorandum of understanding, which dealt with an FBI task force. The task force was to be set up to handle crimes within the jurisdiction of the FBI. The FBI hand-picked whom they wanted on the task force. Several members of the Tribal Council spoke out against it. At least three of them vehemently opposed it, they didn't like the way it sounded. They were told by the FBI agent who came up here with the agreement, Gary Price, that they had no say-so in this. He said the task force would be investigating crimes on the reservation.

What bothered the Tribal Counsel, after knowing the information that was coming out on some of their criminal investigators, is that the investigators who are implicated in corruption and wrongdoing on the reservation have been hand-picked as members of that task force, along with corrupt county officers. The Deputy from Roosevelt County is Bill Rusche. There is a case filed against him involving a drug raid where a minor Indian child was touched in a sexually inappropriate manner. There were other times when no drugs were confiscated in his stops. Two of the criminal investigators from the tribe--one is implicated in drug dealing, the other was involved in a questionable shooting of a person in his custody, who was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, laying face down in the backseat of the car. That was never thoroughly investigated. His name is Robert War Club.

QUESTION: Do you suspect that he is involved in drug smuggling?

BUCKLES: Yes I do.

QUESTION: How would you go about proving that?

BUCKLES: Well, in a recent raid on the local school, we have information that his daughters were caught with an 8 ball of crack. I don't know what an 8 ball is, but I know it's a substantial amount. I don't think charges were filed, or anything came of it. Other children were arrested that day and charged.

QUESTION: Would his office have been in charge of the raid?

BUCKLES: He would have worked in congruence with the other officers, who were the Montana Drug Task Force, state officers.

QUESTION: How many deaths have occurred on your reservation in the '90's?

BUCKLES: I could not even begin to tell you. We have a higher murder rate on the reservation than the state of Montana itself.

QUESTION: Than the whole state?

BUCKLES: Yes.

QUESTION: And these people who have been murdered, you believe, were murdered because they knew something?

BUCKLES: A lot of the families have said they believe their victims stumbled onto something that they shouldn't have known, or had information that would have implicated officials and that they were killed because of that knowledge.

QUESTION: Where do you think all of this is going to go?

BUCKLES: I don't know.

QUESTION: Is this about to break open and be solved?

BUCKLES: I hope so. We received a letter last week from Senator Max Baucus that he was deeply concerned. We sent a letter to Director Louis Freeh of the FBI [5]. We listed a number of facts that can all be substantiated. We sent it return receipt. We got a receipt. We never heard anything back. We contacted Congressman Rick Hill's office. He forwarded the letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI. He assured us as soon as his office received a report he would forward it on to us. One of our contacts says he has documents showing that payoffs go into the Governor's mansion, for allowing the drug activity in the state.

There was an investigation done by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They confirmed to one journalist that there has been a warrant issued for Terry Nelson because he is a dual citizen. He has had substantial contact with law enforcement in this area for a number of years. He is a property owner in Montreal. There is a lot more I can give you, but that is enough for now.

 

* * *

 

 

Drug Runners Protected By Jurisdiction

Willy Bradley is an American Indian anti-drug crusader. He lives in Hayes, on the south end of the Fort Belknap Reservation. The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted on February 19.

 

QUESTION: What is your knowledge of the drug running in your area?

BRADLEY: I'm working with the FBI to stop the drugs. I started by myself. I went to the tribal council--they were all involved some way, somehow. We have a huge problem up here.

QUESTION: Members of the tribal council were involved in drug smuggling?

BRADLEY: Yes, and in trafficking. And we had an election in November, and we got most of those guys off of there. And the council is now trying to do something. But it's still pretty tough. Drugs are coming in from Canada. We now have a drug task force.

QUESTION: Was this task force initiated by the FBI?

BRADLEY: No, this was initiated by me and four other people, and we're working with the council on this.

QUESTION: The other people I've talked to say there have been many murders on the Fort Peck Reservation associated with drug running. Have there been any on the Fort Belknap Reservation?

BRADLEY: Yes, there have been several drug-related murders here that have never been investigated.

QUESTION: How many, in what period of time?

BRADLEY: At least five in the last five years that I know about, and they haven't been investigated.

QUESTION: Whose responsibility would it be to investigate that?

BRADLEY: It would probably be the FBI.

QUESTION: And the FBI is not doing it?

BRADLEY: No.

QUESTION: Where is the FBI office located that would be responsible for this?

BRADLEY: Well, I'm working with Steve Liss out of Havre.

QUESTION: Some people have told me that some FBI agents might have been involved in the smuggling. Do you know anything about that?

BRADLEY: Well, I've heard that the ones stationed in Glascow were involved.

QUESTION: Have there been any recent developments in your area?

BRADLEY: Tribal police have been making some drug busts. They made one big bust here last week.

QUESTION: Are the tribal police clean on your reservation?

BRADLEY: I don't think they are. Some of them are using it. This is a small community and a lot of people are using it, and the police should know who they are, if they are qualified to do the job.

QUESTION: What do people like you need to clean this up?

BRADLEY: We need some law enforcement.

QUESTION: And you can't trust the tribal police to provide that?

BRADLEY: No, not really. It has to come from the FBI. The county sheriff doesn't have jurisdiction to come onto the reservation.

QUESTION: How about your Senators and Representatives?

BRADLEY: They don't want to get involved. They won't touch it. We wrote letters to Baucus and Conrad Burns. They won't have anything to do with the reservation, it's out of their jurisdiction.

QUESTION: It seems to me that makes reservations very enticing places bring drugs in, if you wanted to be a drug runner.

BRADLEY: Yes, you are protected by law here, or jurisdictional conflicts.

QUESTION: The reservations are sovereign nations, aren't they?

BRADLEY: That's what they say when things like this happen.

QUESTION: Do you feel like your life is in danger?

BRADLEY: Oh, yes. Just Monday night there was an attack on the mother of the secretary for our drug task force. They rammed her at full throttle from behind and gave her whiplash. She was backing out into the street. She came out of it O.K, though.

QUESTION: Was that on the reservation?

BRADLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Have the tribal police done anything about this?

BRADLEY: No.

QUESTION: And so the people who are fighting to clean this up are subject to harassment and intimidation, and they get no protection from the tribal police?

BRADLEY: Exactly. And the ones who did it, their families are involved in the drug trafficking.

QUESTION: Are there others involved who are not Indians?

BRADLEY: Well, there are Mexicans and whites both, and we see some strange vehicles coming through.

QUESTION: Mexicans? What are Mexicans doing up there? Is it common for Mexicans to be in your part of Montana?

BRADLEY: No.

QUESTION: Are these drug cartel people?

BRADLEY: I think they are, because I've been warned about Mexicans who are going to come in here to kill me. But so far they haven't.

QUESTION: You have received a warning that Mexicans are going to kill you?

BRADLEY: Yes. I've been threatened.

QUESTION: I guess when you're involved in something like this, all the people on one side pretty much know each other. You guys must have a support group. Do you try to protect each other?

BRADLEY: Yes. I have people watching out for me.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, are the local officials, County Sheriffs and so forth-are these people on the right side of the law?

BRADLEY: Yes, I've been working with the Blaine County Sheriff--his name is Pete Paulsen.

QUESTION: You think he's on the up and up?

BRADLEY: Yes, because we did make some busts off the reservation. My informants call me, but by the time I get hold of him and the FBI, the runners are already gone. By the time they get their roadblocks, people have covered their tracks.

QUESTION: Do you think the FBI is clean on this?

BRADLEY: I think so in this area. They made some busts too--Steve Liss did. He's FBI out of Havre.

QUESTION: Can you tell by the life-style who it is making money off the drugs?

BRADLEY: Yes. They drive new cars.

QUESTION: And most people in the community can't afford new cars?

BRADLEY: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to add?

BRADLEY: I hope you can have some influence and get some law and order in here. There's going to be more violence here, violence is escalating.

* * *

 

Many events, which I could not address in this story, took place this week on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. I will remain in contact with my sources and complete the story next week.

Since I began doing research for this story on Tuesday, February 17, I have been receiving strange phone calls at home. I wish to state here for the record that I am not suicidal, I am not depressed, and I am not accident-prone.

 

Notes: 

[1] I am indebted to Hi-Line Mary for much of the source material upon which this story is based. She provided phone numbers for many people who lived through the events described in this article. She also provided several documents that aided my research. The harassment which she and several of her friends suffered at the hands of narco-politicians in Montana has turned her into a hardened crusader for justice. Her articles may be read in Laissez Faire City Times on the internet.

[2] The Burlington Northern railroad, which runs through the area, is known as the Hi-line.

[3] I have posted the Roe Report temporarily for reference purposes at the following address: http://www.mtco.com/~wphlen/page106.html

[4] An exchange of letters between Free Speech Newspaper and Governor Marc Racicot, pertaining to Racicot's alleged involvement in the drug conspiracy, is posted temporarily for research purposes only, at the following location: http://www.mtco.com/~wphlen/page105.html

[5] The open letter to FBI Director Freeh may be found at the following location: http://members.aol.com/pegpress/montdrug.htm


Published in the Feb. 23, 1998 issue of The Washington Weekly. Copyright © 1998 The Washington Weekly (http://www.federal.com). Reposting permitted with this message intact.


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