Mansion

Photo courtesy of Billings Gazette/Austin Steele

Larry Price’s mansion is shown in the Ironwood subdivision in Billings, Mont., on Tuesday.

BILLINGS, Mont. — A former Tazewell County resident was sentenced to probation last week in a Montana court after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to the Billings Gazette, a federal prosecutor said Zachary Ruble was employed at a mine in Montana that was a “den of thievery,” a mine operated by another former Tazewell County resident, Larry Price.

The prosecutor said Ruble worked in the mine from 2014 to early 2019 and participated in a bogus equipment sale to a Bluefield, Va., company, with money from the mine to pay for the equipment then funneled into Price’s private accounts, the article said, adding that Price is accused of swindling nearly $2.4 million in fake sales deals at the Signal Peak Mine.

Price pleaded guilty last year 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’s sentencing is set for August 2020, the Gazette article said.

According to the Gazette, Ruble’s defense attorney said he was lured to Montana by Price with gifts, a job offer and other perks, even flying Ruble and his wife on his personal jet.

Price and Ruble had been teammates in junior high sports in Tazewell but lost contact until 2012, when their wives found each other on Facebook, Ruble said in filings.

According to the article, 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.

The U.S. District Court judge agreed that Ruble was “the least culpable” among defendants or potential defendants connected to Price, the article said.

Price owned or operated several businesses in Tazewell County at one time.

He is also known in Billings as the man behind a more than $10 million, 26,000-square-foot mansion that is the largest residential building ever constructed in Billings.

Federal prosecutors wrote in court documents obtained by the Gazette said that Price and several other people “routinely conducted financial transactions designed to mask” more than $20 million Price stole from three companies during a roughly 18-month span ending in April 2018.

The Montana indictments accuse Price of defrauding Ninety-M, LLC, a Wyoming coal company he was managing and Three Blind Mice LLC.  The charges claim Price took $13,500,000 from the owners of Ninety-M that was supposed to be used for real property, mining equipment and supplies and diverted it for his personal use.

The government claims that between July of 2017 and January of 2018 Price electronically transferred the money in sums ranging from $300,000 to $3,990,000 through banks in Montana, Texas and West Virginia.

But his schemes started to unravel, resulting in more charges last year, but this time locally.

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 owns, 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.

In the Montana case, each count of wire fraud and money laundering carries up to 20 years in prison. The latter charge is punishable by up to five years. 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 that defrauded three companies.

The Gazette article said that 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.

Price has a long criminal record in Virginia, serving five years in prison, 2005-2010, after pleading guilty to distribution of oxycodone.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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