Coal magnate's assistant admits possessing guns, calls boss' circle 'almost like a cult'

Coal magnate's assistant admits possessing guns, calls boss' circle 'almost like a cult'

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The personal assistant for disgraced coal magnate Larry Price Jr. was given probation on Thursday for illegally possessing firearms.

Todd Allen Irwin, 50, moved to Montana from Virginia to work for Price, he told U.S. District Judge Susan Watters. The job in part required him to live in Price’s home and maintain access to Price’s gun stash, which held 57 firearms.

Irwin had a state conviction from South Carolina that barred him from possessing firearms.  

“He was the kind of person you didn’t say no to,” Irwin said, of Price. “My wife refers to it — it was almost like a cult,” he added.

Irwin had worked for Price previously in Virginia, he said. When the Montana job offer first came, Irwin said he told Price he was happy living back East. But Irwin said Price responded that he’d send a jet out for Irwin to visit Montana.

It was a similar story to Zachary Ruble’s. Ruble, who eventually accepted Price’s offer to work at the Signal Peak Mine in Roundup, had initially declined the job, saying he and his wife were happy in their newly built home in Virginia. The two men had been teammates in junior high. But Price flew Ruble out to Montana twice and increased the pay offer, and Ruble later accepted, according to court filings by his defense attorney in a separate case.

It was not immediately clear which Price home Irwin lived in. Price owned multiple residential properties in the Billings area, including a 10-bedroom mansion with three outdoor pools and a three-stop elevator. The mansion is located in Price Subdivision, adjacent to Ironwood Subdivision. Government filings say Irwin was caught with the gun stash in a home inside the Ironwood Subdivision. 

Attorneys in the case declined to comment or did not respond by press time. 

Irwin said that one night in Billings, while watching television with his wife, Price called and asked if he was at the home. Irwin said he was, and Price told him to open the garage door, Irwin recounted in court Thursday. Price was there with some other men, Irwin said, and they all began unloading guns.

Price's gun stash included multiple AR-15s and at least one sniper rifle, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin Rubich. Of the 57 firearms in the safe, 55 belonged to Price, Irwin said. One was Irwin’s daughter’s, and another was a hunting rifle Price had given Irwin for Christmas, he said.

As Price’s personal assistant, Irwin traveled with Price and his wife, who together brought along “sums of cash” and her jewelry, Irwin said. Price told him to always travel with a gun.

Watters asked if Irwin didn’t consider the fact that he was barred from possessing firearms due to a previous criminal conviction. Irwin said he had considered it, and acknowledged it was wrong.

“Was he paying you pretty well?” the judge asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Irwin said.

According to filings from 2018 in a civil case in Virginia seeking to freeze Price assets, Irwin negotiated the sale of unnamed Price assets after Price was arrested on May 10, 2018, for lying to federal agents. Assistant U.S. Attorney Krista Consiglio wrote that as Price, who was released from jail roughly a week after his arrest, and his wife continued to spend fraudulently obtained money, Irwin had been in touch with various individuals in Virginia and West Virginia, selling off Price assets. 

Watters later said that Irwin was unlike others appearing before her on similar firearms charges because he wasn't accused of brandishing them in threats or using them to further drug deals. 

Still, she told Irwin, “You got caught up in something that was bigger than you,” adding that there were “indications of you and some of your group using cocaine socially,” and flying cross-country in jets. Watters said Irwin had “lost focus” and was “living a pretty high lifestyle.”

Federal Defender Gillian Gosch said her client was “fully cooperative from the minute things went south with Mr. Price.”

Irwin lives in Virginia now, but has flown back to Montana to make all court appearances, Gosch said. Irwin will serve his five years of probation in Virginia.

The defense had recommended a probationary sentence, while the government sought prison time.

Watters asked Irwin if he was still in touch with Price.

“I’ve washed my hands clean of it, ma’am,” Irwin said.

Price did stop by the convenience store in Virginia where Irwin works one day to buy food during a trip to visit the ATV trails in the area, Irwin said. Price was with his son and two men Irwin didn’t know. They greeted each other, but then Irwin went back to stock the beer cooler, he said.

Price is scheduled for sentencing in Billings in August.

“Mr. Price has got his own problems, and he’ll end up having to face the music” at sentencing, Watters said.

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