August 11, 1996 in City

Picnic For Really Big Family Proved Costly Montana’s Support Role In Standoff With Freemen Will Cost Fbi Plenty

Tom Laceky Associated Press
 

The armed standoff with the Garfield County freemen this spring cost Montana more than $720,000, but the bills read more like a family shopping list than a counter-terrorism operation.

Make that a shopping list for a really big family.

Maybe on a picnic.

From sack lunches and candy bars to oven mitts and portable toilets, the bills are for everything imaginable to feed and otherwise support more than 100 FBI agents at a time throughout the 81-day standoff that ended June 13.

Food was the big item, and Ryan’s Grocery in Jordan collected the biggest single amount: $35,687. The second-biggest tab, $31,338, was from Mon-Dak Construction Supply in Glendive for portable toilets.

Housing was a different matter. Garfield County commissioners gave the FBI free use of the fairgrounds, where most agents slept and ate. In return, the FBI made extensive repairs and improvements, including outdoor lights. County officials are delighted.

Montana’s role in what the FBI dubbed “Operation Gray Sunset” was to provide support. The FBI agreed to reimburse the state for the help of some 30 state employees - cooks, support personnel, Highway Patrol officers, investigative agents and a fire marshal.

The FBI won’t say what the total operation cost, but Director Louis J. Freeh has estimated several million dollars.

The agency brought in 633 agents from all over the country, as many as 150 at a time, from March 25 to June 13, when the last of the anti-government extremists surrendered.

Nearly all the state’s bills are in now, says Karen Munro of the state Justice Department.

She meticulously organized the hundreds of receipts and overtime slips and submitted them to the FBI in Washington, D.C. Her billings to the FBI are inches thick, and the files that produced them span more than two feet of cabinet space.

The FBI has been prompt and reasonable about payments, has rejected nothing and has asked for clarification of only a few items, Munro said. Merchants in Jordan also say the FBI paid all its bills there promptly.

Munro has billed the FBI for $720,869.97 so far, and the FBI has reimbursed the state $322,032.60. The breakdown:

$406.220.52 for groceries, supplies and the support services of employees from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The FBI has yet to pay $84,187.92.

$303,502.44 in overtime for Highway Patrol officers and law enforcement agents. None of this has been paid.

$5,170.03 in overtime for a Justice Department agent from the Criminal Investigation Bureau who was assigned to the FBI’s task force. None of this has been paid.

$5,976.88 for assistance from Disaster and Emergency Services that was not covered by any of the three written agreements. The Justice Department has written a letter asking for payment, but no reply has come back, Munro said.

The great majority of the money went to merchants in Jordan, a huge economic shot in the arm for the town of 500 at a normally difficult time of year. Several surrounding communities also got some of the business.

The Buttrey store in Miles City collected more than $5,000, and Tri-State Services in Baker sold $2,500 worth of drinking water and tanks to hold it.

xxxx SOME SACK LUNCHES, BUT STEAK DINNERS, TOO A sampling of the thousands of purchases by state officials to support Operation Gray Sunset indicates the standoff had many dimensions, some expected, some not. The VFW Auxiliary netted $775 for 150 lunches and dinners and use of the VFW Hall in Jordan on March 25 - the day the standoff began. On March 26, Ryan’s Grocery sold “supplies for (2) 20-man camps: $195.51.” Sack lunches were a frequent item, most often from the 600 Cafe or Bill’s Minit Mart in Miles City, usually at $5.50 each. But it wasn’t all workday fare for the agents. They often commented on how well they were eating “out in Montana,” and some even worried about gaining weight. Which may explain the Montana Quality Foods bill for one date: “175 Rib Eye Steaks at $4.09/lb - $696.53.” Walter Rolf of Miles City sold 720 candy bars at $1 each. Richard Reser of Worden rented out his 1992 Plymouth Voyager, a 7-person min-van, for $60 a day from April 13 to 29. The Miles City office of BFI of Montana charged $701.40 for garbage collection in April at the Garfield County fairgrounds, where the FBI had its command center. The Miles City laundry sold the operation 50 dishtowels at $1.75 each. And this from Netzer Hardware and Plumbing in Terry: “1 FMDA pilot valve for over $122.85.”


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