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A Gallatin County judge sentenced a Florida man Friday to two years’ probation for tampering with evidence related to a string of smash-and-grab burglaries in Gallatin County last year.

Joshua David Blair, who appeared in Gallatin County District Court by video call from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” in April 2020 when he was arrested with three other Florida residents at a house they had rented short term in Belgrade, said Elizabeth Musick, an attorney retained by his family to represent him.

Law enforcement on the day of the arrests found licenses, credit cards, cash and checkbooks reported as stolen and multiple wigs, which may have been used as disguises, in the home where he and friends had been staying.

The stolen items were linked to a series of burglaries on April 27, 2020, at Lindley Park, Peets Hill Park, Bozeman Pond, the Bozeman Softball Complex and the Cherry Creek Fishing Access. Law enforcement alleged the four were part of the Felony Lane Gang, a Florida-based crime ring that has gained national attention for its smash and grabs.

The 23-year-old, who has no other criminal history, had a burglary tool in his pocket at the time of his arrest when he “panicked and tried to hide it,” Musick said in an interview after his sentencing hearing.

Law enforcement charged Blair, who was 22 at the time, and three others with crimes related to the burglaries. All four pleaded not guilty, and Blair spent 41 days in Gallatin County Detention Center.

Blair pleaded guilty in March to felony tampering with evidence, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, $50,000 in fines or both. County attorneys dismissed felony charges of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, conspiracy to commit theft and conspiracy to tamper with or fabricate physical evidence.

Blair and three co-defendants were held in Gallatin County on $500,000 bail each following their arrests, a cost for release set by Gallatin County Judge Bryan Adams. Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown later reduced Blair’s bail to $25,000 after Musick and protesters asserted that his bond amount was set too high for his having no criminal history.

Many said Blair’s bail was set at $500,000 because he is Black. Brown, in lowering Blair’s bail, refuted that the $500,000 bond was set because of his race.

The two-year probation sentence, coupled with the 41 days Blair spent in jail in Gallatin County and $750 of restitution ordered by the court, are “a significant loss of personal freedom” and “sufficient punishment” for Blair’s actions, Brown said at Friday’s sentencing hearing.

“This appears to be a bad decision, or a series of bad decisions, to come to Montana from Florida with people who are engaged in criminal activity,” Brown said.

Blair “wasn’t actually involved” in the smash-and-grab burglaries, Musick told Judge Brown on Friday. He had flown to Montana from Florida with friends and “the entire process has taught Mr. Blair a serious lesson about who he should associate with,” Musick said.

Blair declined to speak at the hearing Friday. Brown advised Blair how to transfer his probation supervision from Montana to Florida so that he doesn’t have to relocate for the terms of his sentence.

“Mr. Blair has learned his lesson,” Brown said.

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Bret Hauff is the Chronicle’s city editor. He can be reached at bhauff@dailychronicle.com or {span}406-582-2647.{/span}

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