Larry Price Jr.

Larry Price Jr. left, leaves the James F. Battin Federal Courthouse after testifying on June 23.

BILLINGS, Mont. — Tazewell County resident Larry Price Jr. saw another former cohort plead guilty on June 23 on charges related to a multi-million dollar scheme to bilk money from a Montana mining company and other entities.

An article in the Billings (Montana) Gazette said Stephen Phillip Casher, 46, pleaded guilty on June 23 to one count each of bank fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court in Billings.

The swindling scheme happened when Price was vice president of surface mining activities at Signal Peak Energy in Montana.

Last year, Price pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of making false statements to federal investigators as part of a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Montana.

Price is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

According to the Gazette, Price has admitted he stole roughly $40 million through various schemes from the Signal Peak coal mine near Roundup where he worked, and from investors.

Price testified against Casher, the Gazette article said, saying in part that Casher told him to leave certain information off his personal financial statement for Rocky Mountain Bank, which the bank would use to process his loan applications. Casher was a market president at the bank. 

Price said Casher told him not to list a lake home in Virginia that Price held under a rent-to-own agreement because it would change his debt-to-income ratio. Casher also told him not to list a private loan he received through Casher, because “he didn’t want nobody to know about the personal financing,” Price testified.

According to the article, Casher admitted to defrauding the bank by not disclosing a personal $900,000 loan he helped make to Price in the days before he approved a $3.75 million bank loan to Price to invest in a subdivision on Billings’ far West End.

Casher’s other admission was that he profited from a Rocky Mountain Bank loan to Price that was used to buy his house – as part of an agreement he had with Price, who was buying homes and converting them into rentals. Casher disclosed that to the bank, but did not disclose Price’s full liabilities, including a $1.5 million loan he’d helped broker privately to Price earlier in the year. For that deal, the investors gave Casher a $20,000 “thank you,” according to government filings. 

According to the Gazette, Price estimated he, along with former mine CEO Brad Hanson, stole $20 million from their employer over a period of years. Price left the mine in 2017, and his employment was officially terminated in early 2018.

In March 2020, a Gazette article said James Howard Boothe Jr., also from Tazewell County, acknowledged his part in a scheme to steal $10 million from Signal Peak Energy by overbilling the company for mining equipment and repairs. Boothe identified Price as a partner in the conspiracy.

Boothe’s charges stem from a scheme of overbilling and phony equipment sales in which he sent false invoices to Signal Peak, which then paid the money to companies that were controlled by Price, the article said. Through two companies, C&A Trucking and C&T Repair, Boothe, Price and a third person identified as JC, collected more than $13 million. Those companies then forwarded the money to other companies controlled by Price.

The equipment the Signal Peak mine was falsely billed included conveyors and coal screening equipment, the Gazette article said. Price was in charge of mine surface operations, which involved separating waste coal from coal of better burning quality. The mine, located between Billings and Roundup, is the only operating underground coal mine in the state.

The scheme took place between 2013 and early 2018.

Two other associates of Price from this area have also pled guilty and have been sentenced in the case.

In Feburary, the Gazette said, Todd Allen Irwin, 50, a personal assistant to Price, was given probation after pleading guilty to illegally possessing firearms.

Irwin had moved to Montana from Virginia to work for Price, he told U.S. District Judge Susan Watters, the Gazette reported. The job in part required him to live in Price’s home and maintain access to Price’s gun stash, which held 57 firearms.

Irwin had a state conviction from South Carolina that barred him from possessing firearms.  

“He was the kind of person you didn’t say no to,” Irwin said of Price, according to the Gazette. “My wife refers to it — it was almost like a cult,” he added.

Irwin had worked for Price previously in Virginia and was lured to Montana to work for him.

Zachary Ruble also was enticed to work for Price at the Signal Peak Mine in Roundup after initially declining the job, saying he and his wife were happy in their newly built home in Virginia, the Gazette reported. The two men had been teammates in junior high in Tazewell County. But Price flew Ruble out to Montana twice and increased the pay offer, and Ruble later accepted, according to court filings by his defense attorney in a separate case that were reported in the Gazette.

According to the Gazette report, Ruble submitted bogus invoices to Signal Peak on behalf of another Virginia company, Peter’s Equipment, and then money was funneled back to Price. Ruble received two years of probation for his role and defrauding Signal Peak of $2.4 million. Price was Ruble’s boss at the mine.

Both Irwin and Ruble’s probation sentence, according the Gazette reports, related to their lack of knowledge of what they were unwittingly getting into initially.

The judge in the Irwin case told him, “You got caught up in something that was bigger than you … “

In Ruble’s case, the Gazette reported that statements by the judge, prosecutor, and defense cast Ruble as a good guy who couldn’t bring himself to say “no” in a bad situation, initially. The defense said his eventual opposition to Price’s criminal activity later prompted the coal executive’s decline.

Peters Equipment Company (PEC), in Bluefield, Va. released this statement last week regarding the Signal Peak matter:

“Recent news reports have mentioned Peters Equipment Company in connection with a federal investigation concerning the activities of Larry Price Jr. and other persons. While PEC did do business with Mr. Price and entities with which he was affiliated, PEC had no knowledge of any illicit activity; to the contrary, Mr. Price represented to PEC that all transactions had been approved and were legitimate business activities. Further, Signal Peak’s mine management – including its president and CEO, Brad Hanson – assured PEC that all transactions involving Signal Peak were above-board, legitimate activities. Rest assured, however, that PEC did not engage in any wrongdoing. The company has a long tradition of serving the needs of the coal and extraction industries with integrity and quality work, and PEC looks forward to continuing to do so.”

Price, who is also known for building a more than $10 million, 26,000-sq.-ft. mansion in Billings, was also arrested in this area in a bizarre case in 2018.

In April 2018, Price was reported missing by his wife but in May was charged in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Va. with making false statements regarding claims he was kidnapped.

According to the criminal complaint and affidavit, Price’s wife reported him missing at 1:58 a.m. on April 14, 2018 to the Bluefield, Va., Police Department. The Bluefield police, along with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, began an intense missing person investigation that would later include the Virginia State Police’s helicopter resources, canine resources and hundreds of federal, state, and local investigative man-hours.

At approximately 9 p.m. on April 14, Price was located by a driver who noticed him on the side of the road on Route 61 near Gratton, Va.

Price was taken to the hospital and interviewed by a Bluefield Police Department detective. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Price told the detective he was kidnapped by two unknown white males, drugged and held against his will until he was thrown out of a van near where he was found.

In addition, Price told the detective he was taken from Tazewell County to a business he owned, Hawg Pit Cycles in West Virginia, where he believed his keys were taken and the store’s safe was robbed. Price said the unknown men pointed a gun at him, searched his pockets, and took his pocketknife and his 9 mm Sig firearm.

According to the affidavit, these statements of the defendant and other statements that he made to federal law enforcement agents were false because Price was, in fact, consensually with another person during the time period he claimed to be kidnapped.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Bluefield, Va., Police Department, Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation.

Each count of wire fraud and money laundering against Price carries up to 20 years in prison. He also faces a maximum five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release for making an official false statement.

Price must also pay back more than $20 million in restitution for financial activity and various schemes that defrauded three companies, a previous Gazette article said. Also included in the terms of Price’s restitution is a lengthy forfeiture agreement that spans five properties in Montana — including his West End mansion — a property in Virginia, an unspecified amount of jewelry purchased after his financial fraud began, a motor home, six boats and four boat trailers.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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