GREAT FALLS–A Great Falls man today admitted to stealing firearms during a burglary of an outfitting store, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
Carlyle Ray Wells, 25, pleaded guilty to theft of a firearm from a federal firearms licensee. Wells faces a maximum 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Sentencing was set for Feb. 4, 2021. Wells was detained.
In court documents filed in the case, the prosecution said evidence would show that on Nov. 30, 2019, Great Falls Police officers responded to a burglary alarm at North 40 Outfitters. Officers saw that a gun display case had been smashed and that several guns appeared to be missing. One rifle was on the floor, some distance from the display case.
Security footage at the business showed a small pickup truck had parked outside, just prior to the alarm. One individual exited the truck wearing gloves and a face covering, forcefully entered the store, broke the gun case, took several firearms and fled after dropping one rifle on the way out.
Officers identified the vehicle as a stolen Ford Ranger and located it on Dec. 2, 2019, about 600 feet from Wells’ residence. Security footage showed an individual, whose clothing and physical description aligned with the North 40 burglar, walk toward Wells’ residence carrying a large bag.
Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Wells’ residence and recovered 16 firearms, 15 of which were stolen from North 40. Officers also recovered North 40 price tags for the stolen firearms. Home surveillance video obtained through a search warrant showed that Wells entered the residence shortly after the burglary carrying a large bag with a rifle and price tag sticking out.
In addition, an individual reported to Great Falls Police detectives that she had purchased three firearms from Wells soon after the break-in. Officers recovered the three firearms, which were identified as having been stolen during the burglary.
An audit showed that 27 firearms were stolen from North 40 in the burglary, not including the rifle that was dropped in the store.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Plaut is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, FBI, Great Falls Police Department and the Russell Country Drug Task Force.
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.