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Former police chief says he plans to fight allegations of corruption

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Daily Inter Lake | September 2, 2021 9:00 AM

The Whitefish interim chief of police and the department's former longtime chief are the subjects of an investigation by state officials after alleged acts of corruption involving another Whitefish man who is facing separate federal fraud charges.

Bridger Kelch, the acting police chief, and former Chief Bill Dial, who recently retired from the position, both face allegations by the Montana Department of Justice's Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Bureau (POST).

If POST officials determine the allegations to be fact, it could cost Kelch and Dial their state law enforcement certifications.

The Montana Department of Criminal Investigation said it investigated the allegations but didn't find sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution.

POST mailed letters to Dial and the City of Whitefish on Aug. 25.

Whitefish City Manager Dana Smith told the Daily Inter Lake in an email that the city opened an investigation as required by POST. The city has 30 days to answer the allegations.

"The investigation is ongoing, but based on the initial review and information obtained so far, the allegations do not appear to be substantiated by evidence," Smith wrote. "The City will complete its internal independent investigation and provide a response to POST within 30 days.

"The city continues to have confidence in Interim Chief Kelch's ability to lead our Whitefish Police Department with integrity and our community's public safety as the highest priority."

THE POST allegations assert that Kelch, Dial and Whitefish businessman Matt Anthony Marshall conspired to entrap a subordinate officer, Shane Erickson, into committing an apparent ethical violation involving another businessman from Whitefish.

POST also alleges Kelch provided false information to the state Department of Criminal Investigation during its investigation into Dial's conduct. A third allegation states Kelch provided Marshall, a private citizen, with a key card to the Whitefish Police Department and a radio with access to Whitefish police band transmissions.

Dial, 72, has until Sept. 29 to contest the allegations. He said he will fight the allegations, and added that while he has no intention of working in law enforcement again, he won't surrender his POST certification.

"I will not surrender my POST certification because of baseless allegations," Dial wrote in an email to the Daily Inter Lake. "It's simply a case of refusing to allow people to reach false conclusions without gathering all of the facts from all parties involved first.

"I still believe in the Constitution of the United States and a person is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, the norm has become guilty until proven innocent and I won't just succumb to the 'norm' after dedicating 41 years of my life to law enforcement and fighting the good fight," Dial said.

Much of the case involves text messages between Dial and Marshall. Marshall was the CEO of Amyntor Group, a security company, which, according to court documents, was dissolved in 2018. The text messages show a relationship between the men and their alleged efforts to discredit a former Whitefish police officer who was investigating a case involving another wealthy businessman from Whitefish.

Marshall did not reply to a message for comment.

But according to Dial, the text messages have been taken out of context and the investigation has not been objective.

"There is so much to this story still untold that I feel confident once the entire set of facts is revealed, there will be no questions as to what has been going on and who the real bad actors are in this situation," Dial told the Daily Inter Lake.

MARSHALL IS facing his own legal troubles after federal officials charged him with wire fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and aggravated identity theft.

Authorities allege Marshall convinced a Whitefish businessman he had been a former CIA agent and U.S. Marine. The businessman then allegedly wired Marshall a total of $2.3 million to fund "off the books" missions for the defendant to lead rescue and other foreign operations.

But prosecutors claim Marshall was never employed as a CIA agent or deployed or associated with a U.S. Marines elite force reconnaissance unit, and the missions never happened. Prosecutors say Marshall used the money for personal living expenses and travel as well as loans and gifts to friends and business associates.

Marshall pleaded not guilty to the charges in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Aug. 23.

Dial said he met Marshall by "sheer chance" through a former Whitefish Police officer, Clint Peters, who is now the Columbia Falls chief of police. Dial said his relationship with Marshall was one "I will not apologize for."

Dial went into further detail about how he met Marshall.

"Marshall was leaving the downtown area and stopped to help Officer Peters at a vehicle crash," Dial wrote. "At some point later in time, they ended up having a conversation about firearms training and tactics. Officer Peters was one of our department firearms instructors and had a discussion with former Assistant Chief Mike Ferda and Lt. Bridger Kelch about maybe having Marshall and some of his employees do a day on the range with a couple of our officers to vet out their qualifications and firearms skills.

"I had no involvement with this, but was told that Marshall and a couple of his guys were highly proficient with firearms and tactics," Dial wrote.

Dial said after Marshall agreed to do training with his officers for no cost, he personally attended one of the training days and "was extremely impressed with their level of shooting and tactical proficiency."

IN THE letter from Montana POST Bureau Chief Perry Johnson to Dial, Johnson detailed the allegations.

According to the POST complaint against Dial, sometime in August or September 2018, Erickson told Dial he had been invited to go on an elk hunt which would be paid for by a civilian, "G." The hunt was valued at about $15,000. According to notes from a Sept. 5, 2018, memo in Erickson's personnel file, Dial told Erickson it was not against policy for him to attend the hunt.

The allegation included Marshall and Dial exchanging text messages after meeting at Marshall's home. The messages indicate both Marshall and Dial believed Erickson's acceptance of the trip would be an ethical violation, but allegedly agreed to not advise Erickson so he would accept the gift.

Johnson wrote in the letter of the allegation, "As a longtime member of the POST Council, Chief Dial was well versed in POST's bribery standards and its burden of proof. Once Erickson accepted the gift, both Marshall and Chief Dial believed they could accuse 'G' of bribing an officer, Erickson."

Dial told the Inter Lake he didn't recall a meeting at Marshall's home.

"I want to say this clearly so I am not accused of being dishonest since not being able to recall some benign incident has been characterized as willfully lying," Dial wrote. "I know former Detective Erickson had spent several occasions at Marshall's house discussing the allegations of a prostitution case that he was conducting on Marshall's former business partner."

That former business partner is Whitefish resident Michael Goguen.

"I think there was an allegation involving Mike Goguen paying for sex, but we never confirmed it," POST Bureau Chief Johnson said.

Erickson worked for the Whitefish Police Department for 11 years. According to City Manager Dana Smith, his employment began Sept. 10, 2007, and ended Nov. 1, 2018.

According to his LinkedIn page, Erickson has been a senior analyst at DeliverFund since December 2018. DeliverFund is a private intelligence firm that disrupts human trafficking markets by providing intelligence to law enforcement authorities.

POST is an independent watchdog for the state's public safety officers. The council, which is part of the Montana Department of Justice, sets employment and training standards for all public safety officers.