Broadwater County Commissioner Laura Obert will be arraigned next week on charges of felony theft and misdemeanor official conduct – the latter related to her votes in support of a Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD) near Three Forks, which is being championed by the economic development agency headed by her husband.
The charges resulted from a nearly five-year investigation into Obert’s conduct requested by Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson.
In 2015, Swanson appealed to the Montana Attorney General’s Office for investigative assistance into two matters concerning Obert’s conduct. One was that she directed a county official to pay her for 40 hours of work per week to compensate for a health insurance issue, while her fellow commissioners were being paid for only 26-32 hours per week. According to court documents, that resulted in additional compensation above Obert’s salary totaling $8,897.17, constituting felony theft.
The other matter was Obert’s connection to the Montana Business Assistance Connection (MBAC), whose executive director is her husband, Brian Obert. MBAC is the nonprofit, economic development agency spearheading the Wheatland TEDD, located just west of Three Forks on Highway 287 across from Wheat Montana Bakery & Deli. A brewery and 4,500-seat amphitheater are proposed to be built in the district.
Court documents state that Laura Obert entered into an agreement in 2016, in which she agreed to follow statutory standards of conduct related to possible conflicts of interest. She is accused misdemeanor official misconduct for violating the agreement six times between October 2016 and April 2020, when she did not make required disclosures before voting on matters concerning MBAC and the TEDD.
The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 in fines or a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The official misconduct charge carries a maximum penalty of $500 in fines or six months in jail.
First Judicial Court Judge Mike Menahan will hear the case next Friday, June 5, at 9:30 a.m. Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert has been appointed as special prosecutor.
Obert’s attorney, Brian Gallik of Bozeman, did not return a call seeking comment before press time Wednesday.