BILLINGS — A Whitefish man who admitted dealing heroin and having firearms for protection in Yellowstone County today was sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
Joshua John Welliver, 32, pleaded guilty in January to possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen presided.
The prosecution said in court documents that Montana Department of Family Services caseworkers were at Welliver’s residence in November 2019 in Yellowstone County when he became upset and started causing a disturbance. Welliver ran into his garage and began throwing around items. Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies and Probation and Parole officers responded. Welliver admitted he had drugs and paraphernalia in the residence and that he had a firearm on his person when DFS workers arrived and had hidden it. Welliver showed officers where he had hidden the gun, a 9mm pistol, in the garage. Officers then found 65 grams of heroin hidden in a concealment container insider of Welliver’s truck. Officers also located a bolt-action rifle inside a shed on the property.
Welliver admitted to officers he was a heroin dealer and said he had the guns to protect himself because people try to rob dealers if they have a lot of drugs. He also admitted he got the guns by trading heroin for them.
Welliver was prohibited from possessing firearms because of a felony conviction in Flathead County.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Godfrey prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
This case is part of Project Guardian, a Department of Justice initiative launched in the fall of 2019 to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Through Project Guardian, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Montana is working to enhance coordination of its federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement partners in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes. In addition, Project Guardian supports information sharing and taking action when individuals are denied a firearm purchase by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for mental health reasons or because they are a prohibited person.