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Breaking the law: Strike force to fight crime in the Bakken

To fight crime in the Bakken oil patch, federal and state law enforcement officials from North Dakota and Montana are teaming up. Last week, acting U.S. Attorney Chris Myers for the District of North Dakota and U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter for the District of Montana held a press conference to announce the creation of the Bakken Organized Crime Strike Force.

The multi-agency crime fighting effort is intended to identify, target and dismantle organized criminal activity in the Bakken region, targeting activities such as human trafficking, drug and weapons trafficking, as well as white collar and environmental crimes.

The announcement follows the 2013 creation of Project Safe Bakken, a collaboration between law enforcement in Montana and North Dakota which joined federal, state and tribal law enforcement agencies to combat criminal activity in the regional oil patch.

In recent years, the Bakken region, which spans roughly 200,000 square miles from North Dakota to eastern Montana and north into Canada, has seen a dramatic increase in drilling activity and subsequently, a significant rise in population. Many people flocked to the region to cash in on the oil boom, including criminals.

The sudden population growth brought with it, for example, increased importation of pure methamphetamine from Mexico as well as multi-million dollar fraud and environmental crimes. Acting U.S. Attorney Chris Myers for the District of North Dakota said, “The strike force will have the capability of not only dismantling local criminal organizations in the Bakken, but also to take out the national and international components of these organizations wherever they may be located.”

U.S. Attorney Michael W. Cotter for the District of Montana added that since the formation of Project Safe Bakken, there have been 210 federal narcotic prosecutions in Montana, in addition to numerous other prosecutions involving complex financial fraud, worker endangerment and the transportation of hazardous materials.

Myers said, “The strike force will take a regional approach to a regional problem, coordination with Montana law enforcement. We value the strong partnerships already developed with Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox in this fight.” Cotter added, “The Bakken’s criminal impact transcends borders, and so should our law enforcement response. The strike force is a welcome addition to our existing multi-jurisdictional law enforcement efforts in the region.”

In addition to the creation of the strike force, law enforcement presence in the Bakken region continues to expand with the construction of a new Federal Bureau of Investigation office in Williston, North Dakota. Once completed, the office will house a federally-funded Safe Streets Task Force. The FBI has also assigned two special agents and two state agents sworn as federal agents to Sidney, Montana, to investigate crime in both Montana and North Dakota.

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