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Ex-'Mountain Man' to be sentenced on drug charge

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 13, 2013 at 3:54 pm •  Published: January 13, 2013
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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The past is catching up to a former medical marijuana dispensary security guard who is better known for kidnapping a world-class athlete in the 1980s to make her his mountain bride.

Dan Nichols is facing sentencing Thursday for his role in providing security for Montana Cannabis, a large medical marijuana operation that was raided in a 2011 federal crackdown.

A federal prosecutor cited Nichols' history as a reason to give Nichols a prison sentence at the top of the guideline range, which is 57 to 71 months.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard said Nichols has a violent history and is a recidivist.

"The Defendant is simply a very different person than anyone else involved in this case. He has a history of violent behavior, is at risk to commit future crimes, and is not amenable to supervision," Thaggard wrote in his sentencing memo.

Besides the full 71-month sentence, Thaggard is requesting Nichols be ordered to pay $288,000.

Nichols' attorney argues that Nichols was just a security guard and played no role in the decision-making in the operation. A three-year sentence is more appropriate for Nichols' guilty plea of conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises, attorney Chad Wright wrote.

The decision will be up to U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen Thursday in Missoula.

Nichols was the younger half of a father-son duo dubbed "The Mountain Men" who kidnapped biathlete Keri Swenson in 1984. His father, Don Nichols, killed a man who tried to rescue her, while Dan Nichols accidently shot Swenson and left her to die. Swenson survived, but with diminished lung capacity from the gunshot wound.

Dan Nichols, who was 20 at the time, was convicted of kidnapping and misdemeanor assault and received a 10-year prison sentence. His father remains in prison after being convicted of killing would-be rescuer Alan Goldstein.

Dan Nichols was Montana Cannabis' security guard and slept in a trailer behind the operation's greenhouse outside Helena, where hundreds of marijuana plants grew in plain sight of U.S. Highway 12.

It was one of 26 locations targeted in March 14, 2011, federal raids of large marijuana operations across the state. Nichols was not immediately arrested, and that summer he fled from Jefferson County sheriff's deputies who busted an apparent drug deal Nichols was making at an outdoor concert, prosecutors said.

Nichols remained on the run until May, when U.S. marshals aided by the Butte-Silver Bow sheriff's office arrested Nichols in a Butte parking lot after tracking his movements in southwestern Montana.

Besides Nichols, the four partners in Montana Cannabis were arrested.

Three pleaded guilty to drug charges. Lobbyist Tom Daubert and attorney Chris Lindsey both received probation sentences and no jail time. Partner Richard Flor of Miles City received a five-year prison sentence but died within a few months of his incarceration.

The fourth partner, Chris Williams, went to trial and was found guilty of eight drug and weapons charges. He struck an unusual post-conviction plea agreement with prosecutors that reduced his possible prison time from more than 80 years to a mandatory minimum of five years.

Williams' sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 1, but his attorney, federal public defender Michael Donahoe, has requested to withdraw from the case.

Williams has been consulting with another attorney and Donahoe believes Williams has lost all confidence in him, Donahoe wrote in his request for a hearing on the matter.

If Williams can afford an attorney or the attorney is willing to work for free, then he doesn't need a public defender, Donahoe wrote.

But there is nothing complex about Williams' upcoming sentencing, and if the new attorney is telling him something different, "then shame on him for impeding the administration of justice and giving Mr. Williams false hope," Donahoe wrote.

Williams wrote to Christensen in a handwritten letter from jail that he wanted guidance from the judge on how to proceed.

"The extraordinary circumstances of this case do warrant taking additional legal advice and possible new legal counsel," he wrote.


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