DOJ Seal

Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Montana

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Leif M. Johnson, Acting
, United States Attorney
Contact: Keri Leggett

Belgrade Man Sentenced to Over 5 Years in Prison for Possessing Stolen Firearms

HELENA – Michael Edward Copenhaver, 28, of Belgrade, Montana, was sentenced today to 70 months in prison and three years supervised release for possession of stolen firearms. U.S. District Court Judge Sam E. Haddon presided over the sentencing.

In court documents, federal prosecutor Bryan Whittaker wrote that August 2016 Copenhaver burglarized Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply in Bozeman. Copenhaver broke into the store in the middle of the night wearing dark clothing, a ski-mask or hat, gloves, and carrying an orange backpack. Copenhaver forced his way into the store by breaking a door and the gun cabinets in order to gain access to the store’s firearms. He then stole 18 semi-automatic pistols and put them in his backpack. As he climbed over the security fence when he was leaving the store, one of the firearms fell out of his backpack. He later burned all of the clothing that he was wearing at the time of the burglary.

Several days later, Copenhaver burglarized a private residence in Montana City. The owners of the residence had recently posted their home for sale. The owners had been out of the house that morning. When they were out, Copenhaver broke into the home through a back patio door and stole 16 firearms and other items such as jewelry, a World War I and World War II knife collection, and binoculars.

Several days after the home burglary, the Blackfoot Idaho Police Department (“BPD”) officers were dispatched to the State of Idaho Probation Office in Blackfoot, Idaho for a report of a suspicious vehicle. It was reported that the male subject was asleep or unconscious inside the vehicle and was not responsive. Upon arrival, officers asked the individual to get out of the car. When Copenhaver exited the vehicle, he stated that he had been “wanting to talk to you guys.” Copenhaver told officers that he needed help and said that methamphetamine was taking over his life. He told officers that the guns inside his vehicle were stolen and he felt like a “dirt bag” for the things he had been doing lately. He further said that he had committed a burglary at a gun store in Bozeman, Montana and broke into a house near Helena, Montana and stole more firearms from a private residence.

Copenhaver further described for the officers a burglary he had committed in Idaho Falls the previous day where he had stolen some firearms and then traveled south to Blackfoot where he arrived sometime around midnight. After buying gas, he began to look for a place to “crash” in a nearby parking lot. Copenhaver said that he saw the probation and parole parking lot, but had no idea what the building was. He chose the building because it had other cars parked there and there were fewer lights. Copenhaver fell asleep in his car. He said that when he woke up the next morning there was someone wearing a parole agent shirt talking on the phone regarding “guns and a meth pipe” visible in the vehicle. Copenhaver said it was “just his luck” that he had fallen asleep in a probation and parole parking lot.

Copenhaver also told officers that he was on this way to Las Vegas and California where he was planning on trading the firearms for methamphetamine. He claimed that he could get over 20 pounds of methamphetamine. He also had methamphetamine on his person when he was arrested and he reported that he was using methamphetamine when he committed the burglaries.

“Investigating gun store thefts is a top priority for ATF, and we will not rest until we reverse the tide of stolen guns entering our communities,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Debora Livingston. “These guns were destined for crime and violence, but they were intercepted by sharp officers who noticed something out of the ordinary. Thanks to Montana ATF agents, Blackfoot Police Department, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, communities around the country are safer.”

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan R. Whittaker and investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, Bozeman Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Blackfoot City Police Department and the State of Idaho Probation Office.

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Field Division: Denver Field Division