Cody man in federal prison for harassing Montana woman

Posted 3/23/21

When his relationship with a local woman fell apart, authorities say Donald Foote, Jr. did not take it well.

Federal prosecutors say the former Ralston resident “bombarded” the woman, …

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Cody man in federal prison for harassing Montana woman

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When his relationship with a local woman fell apart, authorities say Donald Foote, Jr. did not take it well.

Federal prosecutors say the former Ralston resident “bombarded” the woman, her family members and friends with hundreds of sometimes vulgar phone calls, texts and messages through a “vast and sophisticated scheme” that included posing as a private investigator.

But it was ultimately a less sophisticated method of harassment that recently landed Foote in federal prison: His decision in 2018 to travel from his home in Cody to the woman’s residence in Laurel, Montana, in violation of a court order to stay away.

In late January, U.S. District Judge Susan Watters of Billings ordered Foote to serve 37 months in prison for a felony count of interstate violation of a protection order. Foote is now being held at FCI Englewood, a low-security federal prison and camp located in Littleton, Colorado.

Foote, 51, admitted to traveling to Laurel “to be in close physical proximity of” the woman, but disputed most of the other allegations against him. Prosecutors dropped a count of stalking as part of a plea deal and Foote’s court-appointed defense attorney, Steve Babcock, asked the court to decide whether the woman’s account was reliable.

Babcock specifically disputed an accusation that Foote had entered the woman’s residence and hung a picture of himself numerous times. Despite multiple calls to police, “no picture was ever turned over to law enforcement,” Babcock wrote in a filing. He described a number of the allegations as “unproven and unadmitted conduct.”

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana contended the entire incident was “eerily similar” to how Foote treated his ex-wife five years earlier. In that 2013 Park County case — which was originally charged as felony stalking but later pleaded down to a misdemeanor count of violating a temporary order — Foote was accused of driving by his ex’s home and sending her aggressive letters.

While admitting to traveling by the Cody woman’s home, Foote denied sending any letters — which federal prosecutors described as similar to how he denied being behind the vulgar 2018 messages to the Laurel woman. They said the idea that Foote violated the protection orders and someone else contacted the victims defied common sense.

“His inability to admit basic factual allegations ... only underscore his detachment from reality and, as such, an incapacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions and necessity to not engage in such conduct again,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zeno Baucus and Bryan Dake charged in a sentencing memo.

    

Prior theft

At the time of the offense, Foote was on unsupervised probation for felony theft out of Park County. In that case, prosecutors said Foote had stolen money from a defunct nonprofit organization. Charging documents say that, after the Wyoming Search and Rescue Association (WYSARA) shut down in mid-2011, Foote used the organization’s remaining funds for personal expenses — including to buy electronics and to pay his rent and cellphone bills. 

WYSARA had been funded by law enforcement agencies around the state, but held its last event in June 2011. Foote had been the nonprofit’s only remaining officer at the time he stole the money.

He was ordered to pay more than $6,000 in restitution and sentenced to five years of probation in the summer of 2017 — around the same time he met the Laurel woman. 

Eventually, she and her daughter moved into Foote’s South Fork residence and later moved with him to Ralston. Foote — who contends they had a romantic relationship — said he helped the woman financially, including constructing two businesses for her in Billings. But their relationship deteriorated the following year.

The woman later told authorities that, in April 2018 in Billings, Foote broke her cellphone after making profane comments. Then in July, when the woman got some of her belongings from Foote’s residence, she said he began yelling, threw things and became aggressive, grabbing her and again breaking her phone. The woman obtained an order of protection the following month, but prosecutors say that didn’t stop Foote.

“Utilizing multiple aliases designed to conceal his tracks, Foote made over 1,500 calls to [the woman] in the fall of 2018,” Baucus and Dake wrote. They say Foote used vulgar language with the woman’s family members; in one instance, a man with a disguised voice left a voicemail for the woman’s mother that included sexually explicit comments about the woman, prosecutors said.

They also say Foote created a fake profile for a supposed private investigator, who told the woman she should be in a relationship with Foote. The fictitious account was also used to send pictures of the woman and her children “that were surreptitiously taken while they were in public,” Baucus and Dake said.

“This all took an extreme emotional toll on [the woman] and her family,” the prosecutors wrote, “which culminated when Foote’s vehicle was spotted outside her residence in December 2018.”

When law enforcement personnel arrived at the woman’s Laurel home, they found Foote nearby. He claimed he was simply on a trip to Billings to pick up materials for his construction business and that he didn’t even know where the woman lived. However, when officers later searched the electronic devices in Foote’s vehicle, they found he’d searched the internet for the woman’s address. They also uncovered evidence connecting Foote to the bogus Facebook account.

   

Arguing the sentence

“Foote clearly embarked on a campaign to harass and stalk his victim,” Baucus and Dake wrote, adding his conduct “was devastating and had the emotional impact of a sledgehammer on the woman and her family.”

Both the woman and her children described living in fear.

In addition to disputing the accuracy of the accusations, Foote’s attorney described his client as a hard worker and a good father. In a January sentencing memo, Babcock noted that Foote had fully complied with his terms of release for the prior 15 months he’d spent on bond.

“Don [Foote] has proven to this court that he can follow the terms of supervised release in the community,” Babcock wrote.

However, Baucus and Dake contended that Foote had “demonstrated that he is a danger to society and cannot be deterred.”

Judge Watters sided with the prosecutors in ordering the 37-month sentence and $3,600 in restitution.

Foote is expected to be released from federal custody in September 2023, when he’ll begin three years of supervised release. During that time, he’ll be barred from contacting the woman and her children, with all of his internet and telephone activity subject to monitoring by a U.S. probation officer.

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