Seven arrested in Fort Hall drug busts

Top left is Benjamin Tlatempa Cortez; top center is over $21,600 seized by Fort Hall police on Monday; top right is Jasmine Bell; bottom left is Laurene E. Surrell; bottom middle is Little Fawn LeBeau; and bottom right is Lorraine Hunter.

FORT HALL — The Fort Hall Police Department this week arrested seven out-of-state residents during two separate drug-related incidents on the Fort Hall Reservation.

The first incident occurred Monday and resulted in the seizure of nearly $42,000 in cash and a stolen firearm, and the second incident Wednesday involved police locating a stolen handgun from Wyoming with an “obliterated serial number,” according to two Shoshone-Bannock Tribes news statements released Thursday as well as police reports the Journal obtained.

The first incident began to unfold around 7 p.m. Monday when Fort Hall police dispatch received the report of Fort Hall Casino staff locating methamphetamine paraphernalia on the casino floor, police said.

Fort Hall officers responded to the casino and learned the paraphernalia allegedly belonged to Rita Denny, a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe and a resident of Billings, Montana, police said.

The Bingham County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Fort Hall Police Department through the course of investigating this incident.

Denny told Fort Hall police that the meth paraphernalia belonged to her, police said. Fort Hall police officers also located several small bindles and loaded syringes containing meth and a large amount of cash — $21,676 — on Denny’s person.

Benjamin Tlatempa Cortez

Benjamin Tlatempa Cortez

During the search of a car registered to Denny's alleged accomplice Benjamin Tlatempa Cortez, also of Billings, the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office located a 10mm handgun reported stolen out of Madison County in Montana in the trunk and several items consistent with the distribution of illegal narcotics inside the center console.

A Bingham County sheriff’s deputy also discovered an additional $20,100 in cash on Cortez’s person, bringing the total amount of money seized during the incident to more than $41,700.

Cortez told a Bingham County Sheriff’s Office detective that he and Denny were on their way to California to purchase five pounds of meth to distribute in Montana before they were intercepted by Idaho law enforcement, police said. 

Denny was subsequently arrested and transported to the Fort Hall Jail where she currently remains incarcerated. She faces charges of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver, possession of drug paraphernalia and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Cortez was arrested by the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office and subsequently transported to the Bingham County Jail in Blackfoot where he remains incarcerated. He faces charges of possession of a controlled substance, meth, and grand theft by possession of a stolen firearm.

If convicted of the two felony charges, Cortez faces up to 21 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.

“This case is still under investigation and will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for possible federal charges,” sad Fort Hall Police Chief Pat Teton. “All questions in reference to Cortez … need to be addressed to the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office. No further information is available.”

The second incident in Fort Hall began to unfold around 7:15 p.m. Wednesday during a traffic stop on Eagle Road in Fort Hall, police said.

Little Fawn LeBeau

Little Fawn LeBeau

A Fort Hall police officer initiated a traffic stop after observing a vehicle pass by with no license plates, police said. The driver of the car was identified as Brandy Decola, a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe from the Washakie, Wyoming, area, police said. A passenger in the vehicle was identified as Little Fawn LeBeau, also from the Washakie, Wyoming, area police said.

Laurene E. Surrell

Laurene E. Surrell

During the course of the investigation, LeBeau said some of her friends were on their way to pick her up when a vehicle with Wyoming license plates drove by, police said. Officers stopped the second vehicle on Sheepskin Road in Fort Hall and identified the occupants as Laurene E. Surrell, Jasmine Bell and Lorraine Hunter, all from the Wind River Indian Reservation near Washakie, police said. 

Jasmine Bell

Jasmine Bell

Through further investigation and a search of the vehicle. officers located a handgun with an obliterated serial number reported stolen out of Wyoming, illegal narcotics as well as drug paraphernalia, police said. 

Lorraine Hunter

Lorraine Hunter

“This was the second related drug bust in Fort Hall this week,” Teton said. “The Fort Hall Police continues to make every effort to combat drugs on the reservation to provide a safe environment for the Fort Hall community.”

Decola, LeBeau, Hunter, Bell and Surrell were each arrested and charged with multiple crimes, police said. 

Surrell faces one count of possession of a deadly weapon, possession of stolen property, possession of marijuana, possession or consumption of alcohol and possession of drug paraphernalia. Decola was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. LeBeau was charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana. 

Hunter faces one count of possession of marijuana, possession or consumption of alcohol and possession of drug paraphernalia. Lastly, Bell faces possession of marijuana, possession or consumption of alcohol and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Information about the maximum penalties associated with crimes charged in the Fort Hall Tribal Court system was not readily available Thursday, and it remains unclear how long of a jail sentence Denny, Decola, LeBeau, Hunter, Bell and Surrell could potentially face.

“All subjects were taken to Fort Hall Corrections and will be arraigned in Tribal Courts,” Teton said. “This is all the information that is available at this time.”