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Red Sand Project comes to Billings

FBI Special Agent Brandon Walter speaks during the Red Sand Project trafficking awareness event hosted by Zonta Club of Billings at Montana State University Billings in April 2018.

Montana’s congressional delegation is asking the FBI to reconsider its recent pullback on human trafficking work in Montana.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte have all sent letters to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for an agent to again be assigned full time to human trafficking cases in Montana.

In September, the agency partially reassigned its lead human trafficking agent from full time to half time. The change comes as Montana brings on board two new state agents to fight human trafficking.

Special Agent Brandon Walter will now spend half his time on Indian Country cases.

“Stretching the agent thin on two fronts, each requiring undivided attention, could result in criminals evading justice and their victims falling through the cracks,” Gianforte wrote.

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Walter is not the only FBI agent in Montana working human trafficking cases, although the agency declined to specify how many other agents work the cases, or how many hours a week they spend on them. Since 2016, Walter had been the only agent to work full-time on the problem.

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Tester, who sits on the Appropriations Committee along with Daines, said the FBI received $161 million in additional funding in fiscal year 2019 for detection and investigation of crimes.

“In light of this increase, the FBI should be dedicating more resources to both human trafficking and violence in Indian Country – not cutting one to focus on the other,” Tester wrote.

While the state is beefing up its resources to fighting human trafficking, some say the problem is best tackled federally, arguing there are greater victim resources and stiffer penalties than at the state level.

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