BILLINGS — Many Crow tribal members have been caught up in Arizona's sober-living home scam, but when they return back to Montana, many often need treatment and recovery.
The problem has caught the attention of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who recently reached out to Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs for assistance.
“This situation is very troubling because these crooks are taking advantage of Montanans. We’ve learned that there are resources available to pursue these criminals. I communicated with all the tribal governments here in the state, sharing this information to make sure we can get our folks back home and we can hold the people that perpetuated these crimes accountable,” Gianforte told MTN News.
Authorities in Arizona are investigating facilities that claim to be sober-living homes that have recruited out-of-staters, including tribal members in Montana, for treatment. Upon arriving, many have found facilities that do not provide a sober-living environment, and would-be patients struggled to find a way to get home.
Once they get there, some are finding success at places including Apsaalooke Healing, while others don’t know where to turn.
“I got recruited out of jail actually to go down there for 90 days with the promise of clothing and hygiene when I got there, and they would help me get back on my feet," said Royce Old Elk, a Crow tribal member.
It’s a far too familiar story. Empty promises of help and recovery.
Old Elk was sitting in a jail cell in Hardin when he says the Rocky Mountain Regional Detention Facility referred him to Mungoh BC, a sober living home in Phoenix. It was supposed to be the next important step to overcoming addiction.
“It created an avenue for me to get out of jail and help myself, but then it was the exact opposite. I drank more down there than I did over here,” says Old Elk.
Old Elk says he was drinking in the sober living home in the presence of staff members. MTN News reached out to Mungoh BC for comment and have not heard back. While this particular home has not been suspended by the state of Arizona, more than 200, including Sunrise Native Recovery, have.
In an excerpt of a voicemail left in March 2023, a Sunrise Native Recovery staff member says: “My name is Adrian Salliego and I work with Sunrise Native Recovery over here in Arizona. We’re helping people get sober. I wanted to get information about the Crow Fair. I'd like to set up with a booth.”
This is how it usually starts, a recruiting communication targeting tribal members in a scam so sophisticated, this home even appeared on television airwaves in Arizona via a paid advertising segment, prior to being suspended.
When fraudulent sober-living homes are suspended, Montana tribal members often end up on the streets in Arizona with no way to get home. Many are now missing.
“Our hands are tied because we didn’t send them, and I think it is an injustice done to the client. I wish we had the money to help,” says Jackie Stewart, Apsaalooke healing director.
Apsaalooke Healing, based in Crow Agency, is welcoming tribal members like Old Elk, who find their way home.
“He's really doing well. He's focused on his recovery and maintaining his sobriety and I'm proud of him,” says Stewart.
In a letter sent to Montana’s eight tribal nations, Gianforte outlined a promise from the state of Arizona, via its 2-1-1 hotline, to help Montana victims with temporary housing and transportation costs to get home, and hopefully find success like Old Elk has at Apsaalooke Healing.
“It's helping me become part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” says Old Elk.
MTN News reached out to Sunrise Native Recovery and spoke with owner TJ Lewis, who acknowledged the suspension but does not agree with it. He declined to speak in detail on record.
MTN also reached out to the public relations department in Washington, D.C., that oversees the Rocky Mountain Detention Facility in Hardin to confirm they sent inmates to Arizona and to ask how many, and whether there is a plan to get them home to Montana. The PR firm has not yet responded.