Judge dismisses Montana museum raids lawsuit

Associated Press Modified: August 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm •  Published: August 17, 2012
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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from a Custer-themed Montana museum director who sought $188 million in damages following a U.S. government investigation into alleged artifact fraud that yielded no charges.

Custer Battlefield Museum director Christopher Kortlander claimed the five-year investigation sullied his reputation, destroyed his business and scuttled his plans to sell Garryowen, a small town he owns within the Crow Indian Reservation near Lt. Col. George Custer's infamous "last stand" at Little Bighorn.

But siding with the government, U.S. Federal Claims Judge Marian Blank Horn in Washington, D.C. dismissed Kortlander's case in a Thursday ruling. She said in part that the seizure of the artifacts during two raids on Garryowen was within the government's police powers and not an unlawful taking of property.

Some of that property continues to be held by authorities.

Kortlander's attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, said Friday that an appeal was being considered.

"We're not going quietly into the night," he said. "This decision is a dangerous addition to the government's arsenal in its continued assault on individual rights. The government should not be able to seize property for a prosecution, fail to prosecute, and then not return the property."

Horn's 21-page dismissal order sharply criticized arguments made by Kortlander in his complaint and pointed out several inconsistencies in his damage calculations that led to the staggering $188 million claim.

She also said claims of criminal conduct on the part of federal agents who pursued the investigation do not fall under her court's jurisdiction.

"Plaintiffs' complaint is rambling, disjointed and, in many respects, it is difficult to sort relevant information from colorful background details," Horn wrote.

Kortlander's original attorney in the lawsuit, Harold Stanton, withdrew in May for medical reasons.

The dismissal of the high-dollar claims case comes after a different federal judge last year threw out a lawsuit from Kortlander against the two dozen federal agents who carried out the 2005 and 2008 raids.