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Investigation of burglary suspect expands to other Montana cities

A Great Falls man accused of attempting to burglarize a local business faces five charges in Havre, and authorities in other cities are investigating whether he may have been involved in a string of break-ins throughout the state.

Brent Ray Nelson, 40, was charged last week in state District Court with felony attempted burglary and felony theft, as well as three misdemeanors: possession of burglary tools, operating a motor vehicle without proper registration and criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. He is being held in the Hill County Detention Center on $20,000 bond.

Nelson was released from prison in September after serving a sentence for three counts of felony burglary, state probation officials said.

Nelson's January arrest in Havre has sparked investigations by law enforcement agencies in Gallatin, Flathead, Missoula and Cascade counties, Havre police Lt. George Tate said today. Evidence seized during his arrest may link Nelson to a number of suspected burglaries, Tate added.

Nelson was arrested about 1 a.m. on Jan. 28 by police responding to a burglar alarm at Hi-Line Lanes. According to the charging document, officers found Nelson attempting to pry open a door on the east side of the building using a green-handled pry bar and a block of wood for leverage.

Nelson, who was wearing a backpack, told police he needed gas money for the drive back to Great Falls, the document said.

A Hill County sheriff's deputy who also responded to the burglar alarm located a 2004 Dodge pickup in the old Kmart parking lot next to the bowling alley. Police determined that the plates were registered to a different vehicle and that the pickup had been reported stolen, according to the charging document.

Nelson was taken to jail, where police searched his backpack. Inside they discovered various burglary tools and rubber gloves, the charging document alleged. Nelson's wallet contained a list of Billings pawn shops, pawn shop sale slips indicating Nelson had recently sold a generator, a plasma cutter and a torque wrench, as well as a receipt for a storage unit in Great Falls.

Nelson's parole officer and Great Falls authorities searched the storage shed the following day, and recovered snowmobiles authorities believe were stolen from Missoula, Ken Grady, a supervisor in the Great Falls office of the state Probation and Parole Bureau, said last month.

Mike Wood, the Missoula detective assigned to the case, could not be reached for comment this morning.

Items seized from the Dodge pickup included tools, a laptop computer, a police scanner, more pawn shop receipts and suspected marijuana paraphernalia, Havre Assistant Police Chief Mike Barthel said.

Tate said this morning that the laptop may have been stolen during a burglary in Gallatin County, and that some of the tools may be linked to a break-in in Flathead County.

Detectives in those communities could not be reached for comment today.

The pickup, which was reported stolen in Spokane, Wash., has been sent to the State Crime Lab, Tate said.


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