A former manager at the Signal Peak Energy coal mine avoided federal prison Tuesday for his role in defrauding the company of about $2.4 million to help his boss develop Billings' largest mansion.
Zachary Madison Ruble, 40, of Billings, pleaded guilty in May to conspiring with his boss at the mine, Larry Price Jr., to funnel company money to Price to build a 26,000-square-foot home in the Ironwood subdivision, according to prosecutors.
In exchange for his plea, Ruble agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sentenced Ruble in Billings to two years probation for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He must also forfeit an RV and a Rolex watch as punishment.
U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said Ruble and Price fraudulently induced Signal Peak in Musselshell County in 2017 to buy mining equipment from Peter's Equipment Company of Virginia, knowing that company wouldn't provide the equipment.
Instead, Peter's Equipment funneled back to Price through an account registered to a company called 3 Solutions, which was controlled by Price, according to Alme.
Ruble's role in the scheme was to accept the fraudulent invoices from Peter's Equipment, submit them to Signal Peak's controller, then collect the disbursements. As a reward, Price gave him a $25,000 check and a 2016 Thor Vegas RV.
Including Signal Peak, Price stole about $20 million from three companies, using 3 Solutions as a shadow company to funnel money.
The scheme began to unravel in the summer of 2018, when Price was arrested in Virginia and accused of faking his own death in an effort to elude creditors.
Price has pleaded guilty to fraud charges in federal court and is awaiting sentencing.
Another alleged participant in the plot to raise money to build the mansion is awaiting trail in federal court.
Stephen Phillip Casher, former market president of Rocky Mountain Bank in Billings, has pleaded not guilty to bank fraud and other federal charges related to loans to Price to build the mansion.
His trial is scheduled for Dec. 16.
As for the mansion? It's for sale by the current owner, a Wyoming company called 3 Blind Mice and one of Price's largest creditors.
It's listed for $16.5 million, and it's under contract, though the listing agent, Dawn Maddux of Missoula, is taking backup offers.