A jury recently convicted a Billings man accused of bringing large quantities of methamphetamine to the community for redistribution and possessing firearms to further the crime, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
The jury found Maurice Joseph Fregia, 33, guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute meth, possession with intent to distribute meth and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
Fregia faces a minimum mandatory 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million fine and at least five years of supervised release on the drug crimes and a mandatory consecutive five years to life in prison, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release on the firearm possession crime.
U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters presided. Sentencing is set for July 23. Fregia was detained. “Meth dealers with firearms are causing violence in our communities and pushing Montanans toward addiction. We will continue to prosecute dealers like Fregia and his co-conspirators to the full extent of the law. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colin Rubich and Julie Patten, along with the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, the FBI and the Billings Police Department for their good work investigating and prosecuting this case,” U.S. Attorney Alme said.
The prosecution presented evidence at trial that Fregia, along with co-defendant Chad Beres, headed a large drug trafficking organization that brought large quantities of meth and other drugs into Montana from California. In April 2018, law enforcement officers with the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force served three search warrants on three Billings residences, including a house where Fregia and Beres lived. Both Fregia and Beres were present during the search.
Officers found almost 700 grams of meth, which is about 1.5 pounds and about 5,600 doses, sticking out of a clothes dryer vent, $14,538 in currency, jewelry, including a Rolex watch in Beres’ room, other drugs and various firearms and ammunition. Beres pleaded guilty to charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
During the search of a second residence, occupied by co-defendant Larry Barnett, agents found meth and a handgun. Barnett, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison, admitted he had received multiple pounds of meth from Fregia and Beres and had seen both men with firearms.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colin Rubich and Julie Patten are prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, the FBI and the Billings Police Department.
This case is part of Project Guardian, the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws, and Project Safe Neighborhoods, the USDOJ’s initiative to reduce violent crime.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime in Montana increased by 36% from 2013 through 2018. Through these initiatives, federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement partners in Montana focus on violent crime driven by methamphetamine trafficking, armed robbers, firearms offenses and violent offenders with outstanding warrants.