The Billings police found only empty shell casings in a deserted parking lot, but video from a surveillance camera showed a scene right out of the TV show Breaking Bad.
Only the man blazing away in his Ford pickup truck in the pre-dawn darkness of January 29 is a real-life meth dealer who was firing real bullets—and is actually named Walter White.
To go from bad to worse, court papers filed in this Montana city say one of the two gunmen in the other car is own his real-life son, Brandon White, trading shots with his dad over a $10,000 drug bet.
Not even Breaking Bad had a father-and-son shoot-out.
In Breaking Worse, this real-life Walter White is not a chemistry teacher turned meth cooker but a 54-year-old auto body shop owner who used as well as sold the stuff, reportedly peddling more than 32 pounds of it before federal agents raided his live-in body shop on March 14.
And Breaking Worse is set not in the arid southwest, but in the north plains amidst an oil boom where high wages have brought a huge influx of job seekers from the more depressed parts of the country. Workers cram into company-owned dorms known as “man camps” or in trailers or tents. The population of some of the smaller towns in the Bakken oil patch has more than doubled even as fast food spots have to periodically close or cut back to just drive-in service due to short staffing because the wages they offer cannot compete with oil field pay. The town of Sidney saw its McDonald’s and lone coffee shop shut down for a time as traffic clogged the roads around the clock and ever more “rig rats” were arriving.
As with any boom, this one was accompanied by crime and drugs—meth, in particular, is a favorite.
“With the good, comes some bad,” says Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.
Or, in the case of the real Walter White, worse. He became a target of a joint FBI and DEA effort along with local cops that would come to be called Project Safe Bakken.
White seems to have first come to the attention of the police after the father-and-son shootout in January. The video appears to show the 23-year-old son waiting in his Pontiac when the father drives his pickup into the parking lot outside his body shop/residence. The son appears to begin firing first. A woman who was sitting with the father would later tell police that she ducked down and covered her ears as he returned fire.
The father was hit in the back and sped out of the lot. The son and another man went into the father’s residence and carried out several unidentified items before he too departed, leaving only shell casings for the police to find when they responded to a report of shots fired.
The son spray painted his white car blue, but did not evade arrest for long. He is said to have told police the shooting was over a drug debt. He pleaded not guilty to assault charges and is presently awaiting trial.
Walter White was not charged in the shooting. He soon recovered from his wound and continued selling meth as part of the ring operating from Billings to Bakken.
On March 1, the Montana Highway patrol stopped a car on Interstate 90, and a search produced a quarter pound of meth along with 80 grams of heroin. The driver cut a deal and told authorities that his suppliers were 59-year-old Tomas Alvarado and 50-year-old Eliseo Lopez Martinez, both recently moved from Turlock, California.
On March 11, Idaho State Police pulled over Alvarado and found three pounds of meth along with a pound of cocaine in the car. A raid the following day on Martinez’s home in Billings recovered six pounds of meth and two pounds of cocaine, as well as 100 grams of heroin, three handguns and $56,000 in cash. Sixteen more guns, including two assault rifles, were found in one of his vehicles.
Both men made incriminating statements. Alvarado told authorities that he began dealing in Montana in October and moved there in November, seeking to cash in on the boom in his own particular way. He admitted to selling at least 80 pounds of meth, with more than 30 pounds going to Walter White.
On March 14, agents raided White’s residence/body shop. The agents afterwards field an affidavit reporting they had found four ounces of meth, $15,291 in cash, and two guns—a .22 caliber revolver stashed in a safe and a .45 caliber automatic under a mattress.
“(White) stated that he kept one firearm under his pillow for protection from other individuals involved in drug trafficking who may intend to rob or shoot him,” the affidavit reads. “White also stated that he obtained the firearm found under his bedroom mattress in exchange for methamphetamine.”
The affidavit further reports that White told the agents he had been dealing one to two pounds of meth a week since October of 2012. He is said to have named Alvarado as his supplier.
In October, Alvarado and Martinez pleaded guilty in federal court and were sentenced to 30 years. Walter White pleaded guilty on Dcember 18 and received 12 years. He had hoped for less, telling the court that he had started selling only to supply his habit and was not such a serious dealer.
“He ended up getting shot by his son,” Judge Don Molloy noted of the real Walter White. “Thirty two-and-a-half pounds of methamphetamine coupled with guns and violence is about as serious as you can get.”
Meanwhile, Project Bakken has announced the arrest of another big oil patch meth ring. This one was allegedly headed by Robert Armstrong, AKA Dr. Bob, a name that seems to be just waiting for a TV series.