BILLINGS, Mont. — The booming Bakken oil patch that's given a major boost to U.S. energy production has emerged as a new front in the fight against drug trafficking.
Organized crime rings are popping up in the Northern Plains, with traffickers sensing opportunity in the thousands of men and women lured there by the hope of a big paycheck.
Law-enforcement officers across the region have teamed up to crack down, netting one of their most significant successes this week — four arrests in North Dakota and a dozen in Montana, all but one on drug charges.
Authorities said Friday that more arrests are in the works as they unveiled an interagency partnership to combat crime in the oil patch. But with drug offenses, violence and property crimes on the upswing, they face an uphill climb to reduce the spiking crime rate.
The changes at play were demonstrated this week with the shooting of an FBI agent in Keene, N.D. The agent, who was not seriously injured, was executing a search warrant, said U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon.
“More people equals more money, equals more crime,” Purdon said, adding that the federal shutdown is making the situation worse.
“We're in this very, very serious fight against organized crime for control of the streets of the oil patch, and I've got about half of my employees home on furlough,” he said. “We're in this fight now with one arm tied behind our back.”
The law enforcement partnership announced Friday, known as Project Safe Bakken, started last year. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said it could not be made public until this week.
We're in this very, very serious fight against organized crime for control of the streets of the oil patch, and I've got about half of my employees home on furlough. We're in this fight now with one arm tied behind our back.”
U.S. Attorney for North Dakota