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A drilling rig

A drilling rig stands over the North Dakota prairie during the Bakken oil field boom in the Williston, North Dakota area.

A Missoula contractor who took millions of dollars from his clients and used it for personal material gain – jewelry, homes, cars and Jet Skis – will spend the next eight years in federal prison and will forfeit $6.5 million in assets to the U.S. government.

Jonathan Lee Oliver, 41, was sentenced on Tuesday to 100 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy several months after pleading guilty to three of the 121 felony counts charged by prosecutors.

Oliver, who used the alias Jon Walker, set up a business called Western Steel Structures Inc. in Missoula in 2010 and began soliciting business from clients in North Dakota, Montana and the Bakken region to build steel buildings, like barns or warehouse.

After entering into contracts with his clients, he received $7.88 million in advance payments, but only completed one building.

Instead of building the steel structures, Oliver bought a luxury house, several vehicles, two Jet Skis, a luxury motor home, and a diamond engagement ring. He spent $152,346 on the home, nearly $200,000 on a 42-foot motorcoach and $54,912 on a truck. His indictment also lists Jet Skis, valued at $10,000 apiece, a brand new Subaru Tribeca Limited – worth over $30,000, an ATV and a diamond ring for his fiancé.

The court documents also show Oliver attempted to deceive his bank by making 17 withdrawals in amounts that were slightly below $10,000 from May 2011 to November 2011 – in order to avoid detection from the federal government. (Banks are required to report transactions over the amount of $10,000.)

Oliver even told his employees to intentionally deceive his clients, telling them their barns or warehouses were partially completed in order to get the next payment from them.

In total, Oliver was indicted on 96 charges of wire fraud, 17 counts of structuring, seven charges of money laundering, and one count of identity theft.

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He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, one count of structuring, and one count of money laundering in March. His release from prison in 2022 will be followed by three years of supervised release.

U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter wrote in a press release Wednesday that the prosecution was part of Project Safe Bakken, an effort between federal and state prosecutors to protect consumers and businesses from “fraudsters,” like Oliver.

“The Bakken is a ripe environment for fraudulent activity and … Oliver saw that,” Cotter wrote. “Project Safe Bakken has and will continue to prosecute fraudsters like Oliver, whose greed directly harms citizens seeking to invest and grow their money in legitimate business ventures.”

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Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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