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Organized crime finds its way to North Dakota

By Launce Rake

Take lots and lots of guys, put them out in the sticks with little to do and pay them well. Who brings in the entertainment? Out in the oil patch of western North Dakota, it might be organized crime.

The FBI announced earlier this month that it will open a new office in Williston, near the oil-producing areas of North Dakota. Williston, according to the U.S. Census Bureau last year, is the fastest-growing small town in America because of the oil boom, growing by more than eight percent annually, with an unemployment rate of less than one percent.

Human trafficking, prostitution and drug manufacturing are the biggest problems out in the largely empty region, the FBI said. With a population of just more than 20,000, Williston is still a small city, but according to an Associated Press story, the sheriff of Williams County said he could use some help.

The Mob Museum talked to Fargo Forum reporter Emily Welker, who has written about some of the would-be criminals who would seek to entertain the oil patch workers. Among those who have been charged is Willie Bernard “Chill Will” Navy, 34, who was arrested by police on three counts of felony sex trafficking. According to police, Navy harassed a women for five months in an effort to get her to become a prostitute in Williston. Navy has denied the charges.

“People are seeing opportunities to expand their business in the western part of the state,” Welker noted. Fargo is in the eastern part of North Dakota, but some of the entrepreneurs appear to be coming from farther east in Chicago and Minneapolis, she said.

Welker said there is some evidence that the so-called “Mexican Mafia” and low-level operators from Midwest cities are moving drug and prostitution operations into North Dakota, but so far there is no evidence of a larger, cooperative infiltration.

Such investments by would-be gangsters in serving the needs of the young men flooding the region aren’t unusual, she said. After all, they have good incomes and there is not a lot to do in the small towns scattered throughout the largely empty plains.

“It’s like San Francisco and the Gold Rush,” Welker said. “The men leave the women and children behind. Someone’s going to find a way to keep them entertained.”

Launce Rake is Content Development Specialist for The Mob Museum