by Travis Mateer
When you are a 501(c)(3) organization accepting charitable donations in order to assist victims of human trafficking recover in an idyllic mountain location called the LifeHouse at Crooked Tree Ranch, there are forms to fill out, and those forms are publicly accessible through websites like GuideStar.
After signing up to access the LifeGuard Group’s most recent filing, I scrolled through the 990 form. How is our many-hatted man of action, Lowell Hochhalter, doing with his dream of saving women from the clutches of their traffickers? Not bad, as the financials show.
While the numbers are interesting, the thing that got my attention is how this group is still just in the process of opening that safe house in the Bitterroot. Here is the language from the 990 form:
Now, since I’ve never operated a safe house for victims of human trafficking, I can’t really say how long it takes to get a place like this ready to open, but according to Lowell Hochhalter in this video on Facebook, the property closed in February of 2021. In the video, Hochhalter commemorates this proud day by trying on his new pair of RANCH boots (not cowboy boots, he already has a pair of those).
In the video, Lowell is VERY inviting to anyone who wants to come out to the ranch to help get it ready for its first victim. If you are a pastor, says Lowell, we will cook you steak. Isn’t this exciting? Isn’t it amazing a GENEROUS donor stepped up at the “11th hour” to make Lowell’s dreams come true? So, when will it be ready?
Over a year later, in March of 2022, the Bitterroot Star did a story about this alleged safe house. From the link (emphasis mine):
“Human trafficking is alive and well in Montana,” says Lowell Hochhalter, CEO of the LifeGuard Group, a non-profit organizaton that works to end human trafficking. Very soon the Bitterroot Valley will be home to a safe house where former victims can safely rebuild their lives. The LifeGuard Group is readying LifeHouse at Crooked Tree Ranch which, in its initial stages, will accommodate up to six women.
I called up the paper and got my first, faint impression that the LifeHouse MIGHT be open and serving victims of human trafficking, but to substantiate this the person I spoke with urged me to find more confirmation. I agreed, explaining my doubt that this safe house is actually open after speaking with a reporter in Missoula who is NOT getting responses from the LifeGuard Group about what’s happening, or not happening, in the Bitterroot at Crooked Tree Ranch.
To see what is being CLAIMED is happening, here are some screenshots from the LifeHouse website:
I added emphasis on the equine therapy because it’s not just the LifeHouse offering those services. I have information about another equine therapy program connected to the LifeGuard Group, but we’re not ready for that quite yet.
To wrap this post up, it would be great to know HOW MANY victims of human trafficking the LifeHouse at Crooked Tree Ranch has served IF it’s open. I mean, wouldn’t now be a GREAT time to champion the work being done by this anti-trafficking group with ties to Montana’s Governor? With the legislative session gaining steam (and losing legislators), and a BILLION in change being eyed hungrily by all kinds of organizations, I would think this definitely would be an ideal time to describe the GOOD WORK being done.
Unless, of course, that work is NOT being done. Maybe extenuating circumstances developed, something unforeseen that impacted the SAFETY of the safe house. Could what’s happening behind the scenes be connected to the postponement of former Sheriff, T.J. McDermott’s, Mayoral announcement? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
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What I find interesting is the information on the 990 form that states Lifeguard helps families of the Missing/Endangered. When Rebekah went Missing, I called them daily for a few weeks and left messages and sent text messages. When I was able to speak to Joe Danzer, he informed me that they had been told to stand down in the search for Rebekah Barsotti. I reviewed this information with Bill Burt who was Captain at the time, and he said, of course they can help. He personally was not aware of anyone telling them “No”. So, did the infamous Sheriff Mike Toth who wields his power as God step in and tell them NO and failed to inform anyone else? Even if he did, it still doesn’t answer WHY we were not offered assistance as the familiy of a victim of Domestic Violence and Missing Person.
If the nonprofit is making claims concerning its operations that are inaccurate or false, that is a matter for the MT attorney general, and if Lifegusrd Group has an IRS determination letter (I presume so, since it is filing forms 990), it’s also a matter for the IRS including its criminal investigative division. The whole thing smells like dead fish to me; what legitimate operation would disclose the location of a safehouse?