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Bond set at $500,000 in attempted first-degree murder

The woman accused of shooting her husband Monday morning had allegedly pointed the same gun at him four days earlier after he told her that he was ending their relationship.

Paulette Iliff, 54, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery. She made her initial appearance in Circuit Court on Wednesday morning, where Circuit Judge Paul S. Phillips set her bond at $500,000 cash only.

Iliff reportedly pointed a .45-caliber Ruger handgun at him about 7 a.m. Monday and said, “’till death do us part,” before firing the gun, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.

The bullet entered Robert Iliff’s chest and exited near his left armpit. He drove himself to Campbell County Memorial Hospital, where he was treated.

Robert Iliff, 62, reportedly told her Nov. 6 that he was ending their 30-plus year relationship because he was tired of the continual problems and that he was interested in another woman, according to the affidavit. After arguing, they separated for the evening.

The next morning, he was awakened by Paulette, who was standing in his bedroom pointing a .45-caliber Ruger at him. She said she was going to kill him and then herself, according to the affidavit.

He convinced her not to fire the handgun, but was unable to convince her to hand over the gun to him. She went into the garage and he went to work.

On Friday, she reportedly sent him several text messages saying she may hurt herself and that it would be his fault.

On Saturday, he watched the LSU vs. Alabama game at a downtown restaurant with friends and then drove home. He opened the left rear door to get something and found her in the backseat hiding under a pile of clothing, according to the affidavit. She told him she was trying to leave him a note, but hid inside the vehicle when he left the restaurant because she didn’t want to be caught. Robert Iliff told police he didn’t believe her because she could have sent a text message.

On Sunday, she left the house early “to go driving to think,” according to the affidavit, and later texted him that the roads were too bad to return that evening.

He also was away from the house on Sunday night. He returned Monday morning and went into the kitchen to get his medication. He noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to find her nearby pointing the gun at him, according to the affidavit.

He told police that after he was shot, he charged her to get the gun and then wrestled over it until her could rip it away from her. He fled the house and drove to the hospital, court documents say.

Police later found her on Hogeye Drive, where she told an officer, “I just shot my husband,” according to court documents.

Police found blood in her Jeep, which was later found at the city pool parking lot. They also found blood at the Iliff home, but it appeared that there had been an attempt to clean it up off the floor because there were numerous smudge marks and wipe marks, according to the affidavit.

At Wednesday morning’s hearing, Deputy County Attorney Dan Reade argued that a $1 million cash only bond was appropriate because of the severity of the charge.

“It’s only by the grace of God and an extreme amount of luck” that Robert Iliff wasn’t killed, Reade said, adding that “it’s about the most serious charge you can face in this state.”

Steven Titus, Paulette’s attorney, argued that she wasn’t a flight risk after living here since 1981. He asked for a $125,000 cash or surety bond.

Attempted first-degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison. The aggravated assault, which stems from Paulette Iliff allegedly pointing a gun at Robert Iliff on Nov. 7, carries a maximum 10 years in prison.

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Navajo leader: Tribe won't back energy company's new mines
President says tribe will not guarantee bonds after NTEC’s purchase of Cloud Peak mines

The Navajo Nation will not financially back bonds a tribal energy company needs for a trio of newly acquired coal mines off the reservation, the tribal president said Tuesday, explaining that it’s too risky and his administration wants the company to move away from coal.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Co. recently bought Montana’s largest coal mine and two mines in Wyoming at auction after Cloud Peak Energy declared bankruptcy.

The mines can keep operating for now because more than $370 million in reclamation bonds posted by Cloud Peak remain in place, state officials said.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said he canceled agreements the energy company might have relied on to seek the Navajo Nation’s financial backing for the bonds. He said the company wasn’t forthcoming about information related to acquiring and operating the mines, and he wants to protect the tribe’s finances as revenues decline from the loss of a coal plant and mine on the reservation. Tribal lawmakers had been considering legislation to do the same thing.

“The Navajo Nation’s financial portfolio as well as our resources would be placed in a state of uncertainty if we allowed NTEC to proceed with finalizing the bonds needed to operate these three mines using the (Navajo) Nation’s consent ...” Nez wrote in a statement.

That NTEC will have to secure reclamation bonding on its own may be a better outcome for Wyoming and the Powder River Basin in the long run, said Shannon Anderson, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-based energy watchdog group.

She said her organization really doesn’t have much of a reaction to the announcement from the tribe, other than it’s watching the situation carefully.

“We’re going to let the Navajo Nation speak for itself on why it did this,” Anderson said. “But ultimately, it’s good news for the Navajo Nation and Wyoming, because it means, clearly, NTEC has to stand on its own.”

How the development could impact NTEC’s ability to secure bonding on its own “is kind of the $370 million question right now,” said Rob Godby, a University of Wyoming economist and energy industry analyst.

Because NTEC remains solely owned by the Navajo Nation means it’s difficult to separate the tribe from the company in its deal to buy and operate the Powder River Basin mines, he said.

“This is kind of uncharted territory (with a native corporation) and it’s hard for me or anyone else to know,” Godby said. “Given that this is a private company, we don’t see the disclosures of the surety arrangements.

“Effectively, the Navajo Nation appears to have been a cosigner on a loan. You’re going to make the payments and are good for it, and they’re there just in case you can’t. Without the wealth of the Navajo Nation indemnifying the contracts, the question is what NTEC will require or whether they can put a package together.”

More uncertainty

The development marks the latest turmoil to hit the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing region, where bankruptcies and declining demand have put a pall over a once-vibrant industry. Hundreds of people in the region were put out of work for months after another bankrupt company, Blackjewel, drastically scaled back operations at two of the biggest coal mines in the U.S.

The tribal energy company was created in 2013 to buy a coal mine in New Mexico on the reservation. It also owns a 7% stake in the nearby Four Corners Power Plant. While it was organized under the tribal government, it operates somewhat independently.

Nez said the legal documents creating the company gave the tribe’s executive branch unilateral authority to administer what are known as general indemnity agreements. He said the bonds in place for the Navajo Mine and the Four Corners power plant won’t be affected by his decision.

The energy company has said terminating the indemnity agreements could have serious impacts on the company’s operations and increase the costs to secure reclamation and other bonds. It urged tribal lawmakers last week to seek other solutions to support bonds for the Cloud Peak purchases.

“NTEC has always considered these acquisitions to be highly advantageous and profitable,” company spokesman Erny Zah wrote Tuesday in response to questions from The Associated Press. “While we understand the president’s decision with regard to the indemnity agreements, we continue to see very successful operations and prospects ahead.”

The Cloud Peak deal made the Navajo company the third-largest coal producer in the U.S. The deal covers Wyoming’s Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines and Montana’s Spring Creek mine. About 1,200 people are employed at the mines, which combined produced almost 50 million tons of coal last year.

Antelope is the third-largest coal mine in the U.S., while Spring Creek ranks eighth and Cordero Rojo is 11th.

Lining up bonds on its own could be a challenge for the tribal energy company, given the state of the coal industry, said Joe Aldina, a coal industry analyst at the research firm S&P Global Platts.

A succession of coal company bankruptcies already put state regulators on “high alert” to make sure companies have the financial wherewithal to conduct cleanups, he said. Also, a decade-long wave of coal-fired power plant retirements has decreased demand for the inexpensive but heavily polluting fuel, which could make financial firms hesitant to get involved with reclamation bonds.

“Bonding companies are going to be more skeptical,” Aldina said. “They are going to require more collateral or higher interest rates or they’re just not going to extend these surety guarantees.”

State regulators are unlikely to release the Cloud Peak bonds until the mines’ new operator can come up with bonds on its own. That means taxpayers in Montana and Wyoming won’t be left on the hook for future reclamation or cleanup costs.

“They can operate like this as long as they like, because Cloud Peak has the permit,” said Keith Guille with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. “We cannot review the permit until they show they have bonds in place.”

Looking forward, however, this also is another sign of how the coal industry has changed over the past decade, Godby said.

“From the state’s perspective, it just emphasizes how we have to be really careful,” he said. “In the past, it seems the state deferred to concerns the coal industry had, but now it’s a new era where the state’s interests and those of (industry branch off.”

At Spring Creek, NTEC has indicated it will cover for now the fees needed to maintain the existing $109 million reclamation bond that was in place when it bought Cloud Peak’s assets, said Montana Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Rebecca Harbage.

Those fees amount to about 1% of the bond total, or about $1 million annually, Harbage said. She did not know if any payments have been made to date.

Not being backed financially by the Navajo Nation isn’t likely to kill the deal for NTEC to own and operate the Antelope, Cordero Rojo and Spring Creek mines, if the company can come to agreements with Wyoming and Montana over the native corporation’s sovereign immunity, Godby said.

“I don’t think this is going to hold things up,” he said. “But it does show there are risks in the coal market we didn’t have a decade ago.”

City will turn over ownership of Boys & Girls Club to organization

Soon, the Boys & Girls Club of Campbell County could take ownership of its building.

The club has been leasing the old Lakeview Elementary school on Lakeview Drive from the city of Gillette for the past few years, but in the first meeting of 2020, the City Council will vote on whether to transfer the property to the club.

It’s just the final step in a process that the council started five years ago.

In 2014, the school district transferred the property to the city for $10. The city applied for a grant from the Wyoming Business Council to repurpose the building for the Boys & Girls Club. The city was awarded the $868,000 grant and spent the money, and the next year and a half, remodeling the building.

Construction was completed in 2016, and the grant agreement terminated in June 2019. In the summer of 2014, the city and Boys & Girls Club entered into a lease agreement. That lease agreement, which lasted five years, just renewed in October, but it allows for the city to transfer the property at any time.

City Attorney Anthony Reyes said the property will be appraised in the next four or five weeks. At the City Council meeting on Jan. 7, 2020, the council will vote on whether to sell the property to the club for a “nominal price.”

In addition, the city owns property at 410 N. Osborne Ave., which is across the street from the club. The city demolished a home on that property in 2016 — “a terrible looking building,” Reyes called it. The club has expressed interest in the property, so the council will vote on the transfer of that land as well.

Reyes said there are no legal issues with the transfer.

The city won’t be handing the building over as is. It currently has two HVAC units need replacing at an estimated cost of $18,000.

City Administrator Patrick Davidson said he and staff recommend replacing the HVAC units “so that when we hand over that building, we’re handing over a working building.”

Each year, the city has set aside $50,000 for maintenance and upkeep of the building. It’s become more of a catastrophic fund, Davidson said, and the city would spend some of this money to replace the HVAC units.

Nathan Grotrian, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Campbell County, said the units provide heating and cooling to the west side of the building, which contains rooms that the club rents out to different community groups.

“Those spaces right now are a little chilly,” he said.

The club plans to keep operating the building as a community center when it is transferred, Grotrian said.

It’s staying busy. Right now, the club averages 80 to 100 kids per day at its main site, and 30 to 40 a day at each of its four satellite locations.

Grotrian and club board chairman Tom Jasiak asked the city to consider replacing two old boilers as well. One day two weeks ago, the building was without heat. Right now, the club is running on one boiler “because we salvaged parts from one to repair the other,” Grotrian said, adding that they’re waiting for replacement parts to come in.

Grotrian is waiting for a cost estimate on the cost to replace the boilers.

Mayor Louise Carter-King asked what the club would do if the city didn’t replace the boilers. Jasiak said it would have to start a capital campaign.

“When we take ownership of this building we’re going to have to start applying for grants, put away money for maintenance,” he said.

The club has made “significant improvements” to the building in the last three years, Jasiak said, and that will continue when the building is transferred.

“We have been good tenants, we’ve done the repairs, and we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.