Two Billings men convicted of involvement in the largest gun theft in Montana history will each serve 10 years in prison.
Lloyd John Romero and Benjamin Quinn McChesney each appeared for sentencing before U.S. District Judge William Nielsen in Missoula on Wednesday.
Their convictions stem from the theft of 136 guns from a Billings freight trucking facility in 2010. The theft was connected to a gunfight in December 2010 in which a woman was seriously wounded, and later with the sale of guns to street gangs in California.
The theft occurred on Aug. 3, 2010, when McCheseney and Romero broke into Con-Way Freight’s Billings facility and stole a shipment of 113 pistols, 20 rifles and three shotguns meant for Big Rock Sports, a North Carolina company with a distributor in Billings. They drove the guns to California, where they traded them for drugs and money, according to court records.
Four months after the theft, Billings resident Crystal Lundberg pleaded guilty to shooting Lindsey Schmaing near a storage unit by Underpass Avenue. Investigators connected the shooting to the gun theft, with Lundberg allegedly trying to prevent Schmaing from talking about the incident. In March 2012, Lundburg was sentenced to 35 years in prison with 10 suspended.
During Wednesday’s sentencing, prosecuting attorney Ed Zink said Romero was “in the car, right beside the shooter” when Schmaing was shot. Zink also said Romero claimed to be prepared for a shootout with law enforcement if he was captured while driving the guns to California.
“He’s an enmeshed federal criminal at this point,” Zink said while arguing for a strict sentence. “He grabs meth and firearms when he’s able to.”
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Nielsen agreed, saying Romero’s criminal past “was about as bad as it gets.”
“You participated in the sale of those guns in street-gang activity,” Neilsen said. “You could foresee what those weapons would be used for. We can’t measure the damage to come from this.”
Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials testified at least 10 of the guns have been recovered in another state.
The U.S. Marshals Service arrested McChesney in Mexico in January after he fled kidnapping charges involving his wife and a minor child. He was supposed to go to trial on marijuana charges in May 2011, but failed to appear. Montana state officials charged him with felony bail-jumping, while federal authorities charged him with flight to avoid prosecution.
Romero was convicted on federal charges of possession of a stolen firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on each count, to be served concurrently. He must also serve three years of supervised release concurrently on each count.
McChesney was convicted on charges of theft of firearms from a licensed dealer, theft of firearms in interstate commerce, and possession of a stolen firearm – all federal felonies. He was sentenced to 10 years on each count, to be served concurrently. He also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release concurrently on each count. McChesney was ordered to pay $40,076.38 in restitution to MT Sports, Conway Freight and Affiliated FM Insurance Co.