Montana Butte-Silver Bow Candidate Faces Fraud Charge

October 26, 2008

A bail bondsman and candidate for Montana’s Butte-Silver Bow County sheriff has been charged with felony insurance fraud.

Ben Thielen, 50, of Butte, is set to make an initial appearance Nov. 13 before District Judge Brad Newman. He denied any wrongdoing and said the charge was “frivolous,” “politically motivated” and the result of an “ugly divorce.”

“Given the timing of this, I find it rather peculiar a week and a half before the election,” Thielen told The Montana Standard. He faces incumbent Sheriff John Walsh in the Nov. 4 election.

According to court records, an insurance company paid Thielen more than $14,000 for items he claimed were stolen from his home in 2006. However, prosecutors allege Thielen knew the items were actually taken by his ex-wife, who jointly owned them.

Roberta Cross Guns is the special deputy county attorney assigned to the case, as well as a special assistant attorney general for the state auditor’s office. She said the auditor’s office conducted the investigation independently and without regard to Thielen’s campaign.

“His getting elected affects me in no way,” Cross Guns said.

Walsh said he “had knowledge” that an investigation was being conducted, but his department was not involved.

In August, the auditor’s office began investigating claims that Thielen was paid for an insurance claim for property he said was stolen from his home between Jan. 15 and March 11, 2006.

Thielen told Austin Mutual Insurance Co. he did “not really have a suspect” and that the items could’ve been taken by anyone, court records said.

He valued the items at about $28,400 and received a check for $14,255 from the insurance company, court documents said. The charging document didn’t describe the stolen property.

Prosecutors allege that while Thielen told the insurance company he didn’t know who took the items, he accused his wife of stealing them in a September 2006 police report and during a later divorce proceeding.

The former couple both owned the insurance policy, and the company wouldn’t pay a claim for property allegedly taken by one spouse from another, court records said.

“Thielen intentionally told Austin Mutual he did not know who might have taken the allegedly stolen items for the purpose of furthering his deception and to obtain payment from the insurance company,” court documents said.

Thielen denied the claims, saying there was “no supporting evidence.”

“I have been advised not to make comments regarding details of this case,” he said. However, “I have confidence in the justice system that this charge will be dropped.”

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