Montana authorities take on coal industry sales
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana authorities have told the state Supreme Court that coal sales between companies and their own affiliates are subject to manipulation and need to be treated differently than other sales.
Coal sales to affiliates have come under scrutiny as state and federal regulators investigate whether companies are underpaying taxes.
The state presented its concerns over the common industry practice during a Tuesday hearing in Helena.
The Department of Revenue says Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy owes $3.4 million after selling coal to affiliated companies at less-than-market prices.
The state says sales to affiliates need to be valued at the time the fuel changes hands — not when a contract between related companies is signed.
Cloud Peak attorney Kyle Gray says the state’s argument goes against Montana law and a 2000 Supreme Court ruling in a similar tax dispute.
Conservationists sue over federal coal program
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Conservation groups have sued the government to force federal officials to undertake the first broad environmental review of the government’s coal-leasing program in decades.
Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
It’s being paid for by the philanthropic foundation of Microsoft founder Paul Allen.
Supporters of the lawsuit said there hasn’t been a comprehensive review of the government’s coal program since 1979. That’s before climate-changing gases produced by burning coal emerged as a significant public concern.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been reviewing its coal-leasing program since a government investigation last year revealed officials accepted below-market bids in some coal sales.
BLM spokesman Jeff Krauss declined to comment on Tuesday’s lawsuit.
Board of Canvassers certifies election results
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state Board of Canvassers has certified Montana’s general election results.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch says the board reviews official results from each county and verifies that they add up to the official statewide results.
McCulloch said Tuesday that two races are eligible for a recount if the apparent loser wants to put up a bond to pay for the estimated costs. Those races are Senate District 49 in Missoula County and House District 51 in Yellowstone County. A recount must be requested and the bond posted by Dec. 1.
The Board of Canvassers includes the auditor, superintendent of public instruction and attorney general. McCulloch serves as secretary of the board.
9th Circuit reinstates insurance fraud conviction
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the conviction of a former Miss Montana who was charged with defrauding her homeowner’s insurance while her Somers mansion was undergoing repairs due to wind and fire damage in 2008.
Christin Didier was convicted in April 2013 of mail fraud and conspiracy for collecting nearly $123,000 for temporary housing by saying she was renting a large home for $15,000 a month when she was actually living in a family-owned cabin.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy overturned the conviction in July 2013, saying there was no evidence that Chubb Corp. paid Didier any more money than she was due under her policy.
Federal prosecutors appealed. The 9th Circuit ruled Monday that the carrier was required to pay for a reasonable increase in Didier’s living expenses and Didier misrepresented that she had increased expenses.
Billings man denies homicide, home invasion
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A 28-year-old Billings man has denied charges that he shot a man to death and six weeks later beat and choked another man, breaking bones in his face.
The Billings Gazette reports Jonathan Michael Martinez pleaded not guilty Tuesday to deliberate homicide in the Oct. 2 death of 36-year-old David Vallie, whose body was found on the lawn in front of an apartment building.
Martinez also pleaded not guilty to aggravated burglary, aggravated assault and weapons charge for a Nov. 17 attack on a man he believed had stolen $300 from him.
Martinez was arrested on the homicide charge the next day at his mother’s residence in Hardin.
Prosecutors have said they found a photo of the crime scene on a cellphone that was logged into Martinez’s Facebook account.
District Judge Gregory Todd set bond at $500,000.
Brockton family pleads guilty to embezzlement
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A 59-year-old Brockton woman, her husband and two daughters have pleaded guilty to their roles in embezzling more than $132,500 from the town of Brockton on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Desiree Lambert pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Great Falls to fraud, embezzlement and aggravated identity theft. Her 66-year-old husband Bernard Lambert and adult daughters Kaycee and Kayla pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Desiree’s embezzlement.
Desiree Lambert was the business manager for the Town of Brockton. Prosecutors say in December 2012 Desiree Lambert began writing municipal checks payable to herself and family members and forged the mayor’s signature on the checks. The money was used for gambling and to supplement the family’s lifestyle.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris scheduled sentencing for March 5.
3 missing after fishing trip to Montana lake
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Law enforcement officers in northern Montana are searching a lake for three people who were reported missing when they failed to return from a weekend fishing trip.
The Glacier County sheriff’s office, Blackfeet Tribal law enforcement and other agencies are searching for two Canadian men and a Japanese woman after family members contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sunday to report they hadn’t returned from a fishing trip to Montana.
Officers found their pickup truck at Mission Lake, south of U.S. Highway 2 between Browning and Cut Bank.
The sheriff’s office says evidence at the scene indicates they may have fallen into the lake on Saturday.
The names of the missing are: 75-year-old Fuki Nishibayashi (FOO’-kee nish-uh-BY’-ashee) of Japan; 56-year-old Danny Heland of Canada and 63-year-old Kazuhiko Hayashizaki (kah-zoo-HEE’-koh hay-YAH’-shee-zah-kee), also of Canada.
Editor arrested at crash wants charges dropped
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A northwestern Montana newspaper editor who was arrested at the scene of a highway crash is asking a court to dismiss charges that he interfered with a crash investigation and resisted arrest, arguing he was a reporter covering the news.
Lake County prosecutors responded that they had probable cause to arrest Vincent Lovato Jr. on Oct. 1 after he ignored an order to move outside the area being investigated. Prosecutors say they have video and audio evidence of Lovato’s refusal, resisting arrest and unleashed a string of profanity after he was taken into custody.
Lovato, editor of the Lake County Leader, has pleaded not guilty to obstructing a peace officer, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The Missoulian reports Justice of the Peace Joey Jayne has scheduled a Dec. 1 pretrial hearing.
Convicted murderer dies at Montana State Prison
DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — A man convicted of shooting his brother to death in Missoula in 1980 has died at the Montana State Prison.
Prison spokeswoman Linda Moodry says 57-year-old Rory Johns was found unresponsive in his cell at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Prison medical staff responded and Johns was taken to the hospital in Deer Lodge, where he was later pronounced dead.
An autopsy is planned, but no foul play was suspected.
Johns was convicted of deliberate homicide in the December 1981 death of his brother, Larry Johns, at a residence in Missoula. Court records say Rory Johns had consumed about two six-packs of beer and taken several drugs — including narcotic pain medication, muscle relaxants and anti-anxiety medication — in the hours before shooting his brother with a semi-automatic rifle.
Yellowstone extends comment period on fee proposal
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — The National Park Service is giving the public more time to comment on proposed changes to Yellowstone National Park entrance and permit fees.
The new deadline for public comment is midnight Dec. 20. It was originally set for Dec. 5.
In addition, the agency is allowing individuals to submit comments online.
Yellowstone is proposing several changes to park entrance fees, which have remained the same since 2006.
The park is proposing to offer a 3-day Yellowstone pass for $30. A 7-day pass good for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks would increase from $25 to $50. An annual pass to Yellowstone would be $60.
Additionally, the park is proposing to institute a new fee for overnight backcountry permits.
Comments will not be accepted by fax or email.