BILLINGS - Two men accused of involvement in a large theft ring based on the Billings South Side were charged Friday in Yellowstone County District Court.
James Kendall Wiles, 41, and Justin William Michael, 36, appeared for arraignment by video from the county jail. Wiles pleaded not guilty to felony counts of theft-unauthorized control over property exceeding $5,000 and one felony count of drug possession. His bond was set at $75,000.
Justin William Michael, 36, pleaded not guilty to one felony count of theft - unauthorized control over property exceeding $5,000. His bond was set at $15,000.
Prosecutors said in court documents the case began on Sept. 6 when the owner of a lawn service reported to Billings police the theft of his enclosed work trailer valued at $10,000. Then on Sept. 17, a Billings resident reported the theft of a 2014 Ford F-150 valued at $30,000.
Four days later, on Sept. 21, a Billings police officer responded to the 400 block of Sugar Avenue to investigate a report of a recovered stolen vehicle. The officer met a man who said he had followed a Ford F-150 pulling a flatbed trailer owned by his boss and valued at $5,500 to that location.
Additional officers and Yellowstone County deputies responded to the location and arrested Wiles, who was driving the truck that was determined to be the same truck reported stolen on Sept. 17. A passenger in the truck fled on foot before he was arrested, court documents state.
At the property on Sugar Avenue, law enforcement spoke with Michael and his father, William Michael. Justin Michael was working on a trailer in the yard that was later determined to be the trailer reported stolen on Sept. 6. Law enforcement located numerous other items of stolen property, including sports equipment, license plates, lawn care equipment, riding lawnmowers, gas cans, power and hand tools, a side-by-side ATV, a Ford F-150 King Ranch pickup truck, a Ford F-350 pickup truck, two enclosed trailers, an ATV, snow removal equipment, and tires.
Some of the property has since been returned to its owners.
The felony drug charge alleges officers discovered meth on Wiles while he was being booked into the county jail.
William Michael has not been charged in the case. He told law enforcement his son and others brought the stolen property to his residence
but he was not sure why.
On Thursday, a woman from East Helena told MTN News her family was notified that their stolen side-by-side ATV had been recovered in Billings and the thieves were known to have operated in several Montana counties.
In court on Friday, Wiles also pleaded not guilty to similar charges of felony theft and drug possession in a separate case stemming from a two-vehicle crash in late August. Prosecutors allege in that case that Wiles was driving a stolen pickup truck when it collided with an SUV on Parkhill Drive. Prosecutors said police found meth on Wiles when he was arrested.