Larry Price Jr.

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

BILLINGS, Mont. — After more than two years since first being charged in a multi-million dollar fraudulent scheme involving coal mining companies in Montana, Tazewell County resident Larry Wayne Price Jr. has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Price had already pleaded guilty to defrauding companies of more than $20 million and lying to investigators about being kidnapped in Tazewell County in 2018. Besides the prison term, he will then have three years of supervised release in Montana.

Price, 40, pleaded guilty in December 2018 to three counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and making a false official statement.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana, District Judge Dana L. Christensen presided over the sentencing and Price was released and allowed to report to prison.

Restitution will be determined at a later date.

U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said in a release that Price’s crimes resulted in “staggering financial losses and harm to many people, including some who lost their entire life’s savings, all so he could live in luxury.”

Alme said the prosecution presented a case with court documents that showed from October 2016 until April 2018, Price embezzled about $20.3 million from three coal-related companies. Price was vice president of surface activities at Signal Peak Energy and also operated a private business called 3 Solutions, LLC, whose primary purpose was to supply chemicals to Signal Peak Energy. 

Price defrauded three coal-mining related firms: Ninety M, LLC, a Wyoming company of investors looking to invest in coal mining projects; Three Blind Mice, LLC, another Wyoming company with investors seeking to invest in mining; and Signal Peak Energy.

It was in April 2018 that Price was involved in a bizarre kidnapping that actually did not happen.

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 at the time, Hawg Pit Cycles in Bluefield, W.Va., 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.

It was during this time that Price’s fraudulent schemes were unraveling.

According to articles in the Billings (Montana) Gazette, two other Tazewell County residents were also charged in the defrauding schemes after being convinced by Price to move to Montana to work for him.

Todd Allen Irwin was given probation after pleading guilty to illegally possessing a firearm.

The job he accepted 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 during court proceedings the Gazette reported. “My wife refers to it — it was almost like a cult.”

Irwin had worked for Price previously in Virginia, he said. When the Montana job offer first came, Irwin said he told Price he was happy living back East. But Irwin said Price responded that he’d send a jet out for Irwin to visit Montana.

It was a similar story for Zachary Ruble, who eventually accepted Price’s offer to work at the Signal Peak Mine in Roundup.

Ruble had initially declined the job, saying he and his wife were happy in their newly built home in Virginia. The two men had been teammates in junior high in Tazewell. 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 and reported by the Gazette.

Ruble also received probation after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to previous reports.

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

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.

Price owned or operated several businesses in Tazewell County at one time and was 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, the Gazette article said.

Alme said after the sentencing that, based on his reputation as a coal mining expert, Price convinced Three Blind Mice to lend him $7.5 million, saying that 3 Solutions had a contract with a Pennsylvania coal company to install coal mining equipment. Price proposed that Three Blind Mice lend him the $7.5 million for expenses, and he would repay $11 million on Jan. 31, 2018. Three Blind Mice signed an unsecured promissory note and wired 3 Solutions the funds. Price defaulted on the loan. There was no contract between 3 Solutions and a Pennsylvania coal mine. Instead, Price spent the $7.5 million on unrelated expenses.

In another scheme, Price convinced Ninety M’s investors to appoint him as a company representative to help it buy and develop a coal mining property in Tazewell, VA, and to help develop other coal-related ventures. Price engaged in a series deals with other companies on behalf of Ninety M in which he solicited about $13.5 million from the firm, of which $10,475,000 was fraudulently obtained.

Meanwhile, as an employee of Signal Peak Energy, Alme said Price fraudulently induced the company to buy coal-related equipment from a firm knowing that the firm would not actually provide the equipment. The firm funneled the money to Price through a bank account registered to 3 Solutions. The scheme defrauded Signal Peak Energy of about $2,396,134.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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