Skip to main content

Jodi Rave Spotted Bear
Buffalo's Fire

Authorities are still investigating the death of a federal informant who was killed two years ago after providing information on disputed business dealings of the Three Affiliated Tribes Tribal Business Council and an economic development arm of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

The murder of Brandon Bentley, 50, remains a mystery.

The Texas man was sitting in a truck in downtown St. Louis on Jan. 3, 2020, when he was shot multiple times and his body was pushed onto the street, according to local news reports. No arrests have been made in the murder, Sgt. Jerome Jackson of the St. Louis Homicide Division told Buffalo’s Fire.

Bentley’s business partner, Kirt Bailey, does not want to look back on the memories of his friend. “I try not to think about it anymore,” he said in a recent interview. “I can’t fix it.”

Bentley provided information and documents to federal authorities about a business dispute between a tribe-owned company and a business owned by a tribal citizen. Laura “Lori” Bird, owner of Bird Industries, filed a racketeering civil lawsuit against Three Affiliated Tribes Tribal Business Council.

The suit was dismissed in July by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland. In the court’s dismissal order, Hovland cited Bentley’s role as an informant against the council of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation:

“In October of 2018, Laura Bird was informed by an employee of Focus Energy, Brandon Bentley, that the Tribal Business Council had established numerous bank accounts in North Dakota, Texas, and other states to enable it to hide millions of dollars in income from the sale of aggregate and ready-mix owed to Bird Industries and make disbursements to persons who were not so entitled."

“Bentley told Bird that councilman Frank Grady and Jolene Lockwood had conspired to get Laura Bird and Bird Industries removed from the project in order to gain control over the project's funds and assets. Bentley also told Bird that there were bank records from bank accounts at Cornerstone Bank that had not been disclosed to her, or Bird Industries, that would confirm his accusations.”

Bird later obtained the bank records from another Focus Energy employee, Kirt Bailey in “which she contends confirm Bentley's accusations,” wrote Hovland.

Buffalo’s Fire left a voicemail and text message for Bentley on Jan. 2, 2020, requesting an interview to discuss the allegations. He never responded to the message. He was shot the next day.

But in an interview in October with Buffalo’s Fire, Bailey confirmed he and Bentley provided documents to federal officials and to Bird regarding the tribe’s actions involving Lakeview Aggregates, the now defunct joint business last controlled by the tribe’s Four Bears Economic Development Corporation. “Every piece of paper we gave to (Bird), the FBI had a copy, too,” Bailey said.

Despite Bird’s lawsuit, the council contends it’s immune to being sued. This has left Bird sidelined because the council has twice prevailed – in arbitration and a federal lawsuit -- in using sovereign immunity as a legal shield against Bird’s complaints of racketeering, theft, fraud and sale of equipment.

Bird’s brief now asks the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to review her suit to determine if the lower court’s dismissal-- based on sovereign immunity – “was plain error and an abuse of discretion.”

The council responded by asking the court to reject Bird’s appeal. The sole issue before the Eighth Circuit rests on whether or not the tribe “unequivocally waived its sovereign immunity,” according to the council’s brief.

While Bird’s civil suit seeks millions of dollars in damages, the Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint in a separate matter against two Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribal councilman and one employee. The federal inquiry ended about one month after Bentley’s murder. The charges against the men included kickback and bribery schemes.

Former Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Councilman Frank Grady pleaded guilty in July. He’s yet to be sentenced.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Gravel Sales

Like many others watching the North Dakota Bakken oil shale boom, Bailey and Bentley saw an opportunity. Bailey started Focus Energy with his wife, and Bentley operated CIG Resources with his girlfriend. The two men entered an agreement in August 2015 with the Four Bears Segment, a Three Affiliated Tribes political district on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Their companies were hired to help with daily mining of Lakeview Aggregates, the tribe-owned company. The pit operation was located across Highway 22 just north of the tribe’s Four Bears Casino. Bailey even had signature authority on the Lakeview Aggregate account at Cornerstone Bank in New Town.

The council bought out Bird Industries in May 2017. A buyout check – signed by Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox and treasurer Mervin Packineau -- was then issued to Bird in the amount of $320,000. Fox has never, on any story, agreed to provide comment to Buffalo’s Fire.

With Bird Industries gone, Bentley and Bailey worked at Lakeview into fall 2017. But like Bird, their business dealings with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation did not end well. Bailey said he and Bentley were owed more than $1.3 million in unpaid invoices from the Four Bears Segment and Lakeview Aggregates.

All the dealings may have left a bad taste for Bentley. On Dec. 31, 2017, he posted to his Instagram account: “Forgive yourself for the blindness that put you in the path of those who betrayed you. Sometimes a good heart doesn’t see the bad.”

Hashtag Wanderlust

Bentley’s Instagram account – btbentley-- reveals a penchant for travel, family and fishing. In the years before he died, he posted dozens of photos from travels across the United States.

He visited Connecticut and celebrated the wedding of his daughter. He dove for hidden treasure in Florida, using the hashtags “Key West,” “silver,” and “gold.” He traveled to North Dakota and added the hashtags “oilfield,” “Bakken,” and “traveler.”

Bentley began visiting North Dakota in 2011. He wanted to stake a claim in a black gold rush, the Bakken oil shale boom. New hydraulic fracking drilling techniques spurred oil companies from Haliburton to first-time startups, such as Missouri River Resources, to set up shop and drill. North Dakota is now the second largest producer of oil in the United States.

Recognizing an opportunity, the friends considered their early options in the Bakken oil fields. Bentley and Bailey knew they did not have to tap an oil well to make money. The oil industry needed rocks, gravel and concrete. “We went to chase the gold we thought was there,” said Bailey. “I could see it wasn’t the oil that was making money. It was the gravel.”

It was Bentley who took notice of potential opportunities with the Three Affiliated Tribes near the tribal headquarters in New Town. In one Instagram post, he took a photo from the far side of the Four Bears Bridge that crosses Lake Sakakawea. The photo’s focus, Lakeview Aggregates.

Bently’s use of social media concerned Bailey, who warned his friend that it might not be safe to post his whereabouts. “Brandon would always pin drop where he was in the United States,” said Bailey. “I told him, ‘Don’t do that. People may be looking for you.’”

Bentley did not listen.

Two years after he was shot to death, Bentley was remembered as a man who liked to shake hands and connect with people. He attended tribal meetings, participated in sweat lodge ceremonies and played Santa Claus at a community event. “Brandon really had a soft heart for everybody,” Bailey said.

Bailey’s wife, Tracie, agreed. Their friend Bentley would help anyone, anytime, if they were in need. “He’s going straight up,” she said, raising her hand toward the sky.

If you have information or tips about the death of Brandon Bentley, call the St. Louis homicide line at 314-444-5474.

Buffalo's Fire logo

This article was first published in Buffalo's Fire