BILLINGS – Prosecutors have netted a string of guilty pleas among the suspects in an interstate drug trafficking case that’s highlighted the criminal underside of an oil boom sweeping the Northern Plains.
The latest to admit to federal charges was Robert Farrell Armstrong of Moses Lake, described by authorities as the supplier for a large methamphetamine ring that operated in the Bakken oil patch and elsewhere in Montana.
On Wednesday, the 49-year-old Armstrong pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute during an appearance before U.S. District Judge Susan Watters in Billings.
He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million.
Armstrong, also known as “Dr. Bob,” was arrested in October in a crackdown by state, federal and local authorities seeking to curb rising crime rates within once-quiet rural communities along the Montana-North Dakota border.
Nine other defendants are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in related cases, and a tenth is scheduled to enter a guilty plea on Feb. 6.
Similar cases are pending in North Dakota.
Yet a prosecutor from the Bakken region suggested the arrests have done little to curb an explosion in meth use over the past year, as cheap, high-quality drugs from Mexico flood the market. Valley County Attorney Nickolas Murnion said the well-paid workers drawn to the region’s oil fields have become a “magnet for meth dealers.”
More than 20,000 people have poured into eastern Montana and western North Dakota since oil production began its meteoric rise in 2008. Tens of thousands more are expected in the next several years as the boom continues.
In Armstrong’s case, authorities alleged he obtained wholesale amounts of methamphetamine from Washington state to be distributed through a network of dealers operating across Montana.