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The Montana attorney general's office has dropped criminal charges against a Richland County ranch manager previously accused of felony theft and illegal branding.

Prosecutors from the attorney general's office requested in November that their case against Jerry H. Klempel be dismissed because they no longer thought they could persuade a jury that Klempel was guilty.

Klempel had faced seven felony charges for allegedly taking more than his share of cattle at Veebray Ranch, while also allegedly running an illegal grazing operation. He was also accused of misbranding cattle belonging to people who had paid for grazing access.

Klempel's attorney Mark Parker said Monday that the state's case fell apart after a judge determined that several of the dates in the state's case were determined to be too far in the past for prosecution. One alleged incident was determined to be within the statute of limitations, but on Nov. 21, state attorneys said they couldn't prove the charge. The entire case was then dismissed.

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Because of a conflict of interest for the justice officials in Richland County, the Montana Attorney General’s office prosecuted case, which was also investigated by state investigators and the Department of Livestock. Klempel’s wife, Janice, is a Richland County District Court clerk.

The Montana Attorney General's office declined to comment on the case Monday when contacted by The Gazette.

Veebray Ranch is located near Lambert. In 1998 Klempel was hired to manage the ranch. Klempel had his own cattle, which were merged with the Russell herd, of which Klempel received a 20% interest. The combined herd was 620 animals. Klempel and his family lived on the ranch for free. Proceeds from calf sales were to be split evenly. If the joint venture ended, Klempel was to get 20% of the cattle, with the ranch owners and Klempel selecting the animals together to avoid cherry picking by either party. State prosecutors said in 2011 the relationship between Klempel and the ranch became stressed and Klempel was terminated.

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