Dan James Nichols Pleads Guilty in U.S. Federal Court
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Missoula, on October 4, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen, DAN JAMES NICHOLS, a 47-year-old resident of Belgrade, pled guilty to conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises. Sentencing has been set for January 17, 2013. He is currently detained.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph E. Thaggard, Paulette L. Stewart, and Jessica T. Fehr, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
Richard Flor, Sherry Flor, and Justin Flor manufactured marijuana at an annual outdoor grow operation maintained on the premises of the Flor residence in Miles City during a time period that included the years 2006 through 2010.
In early 2009, several individuals, including Thomas Daubert and Christopher Lindsey, decided to join the Flors in the manufacture and distribution of marijuana in Montana. Ultimately, commencing in approximately April 2009, those involved in the conspiracy grew marijuana at the Flor residence in Miles City and at least one location near Three Forks, as well as at a series of large greenhouses comprising the former State Nursery in Helena. Once manufactured, the marijuana was distributed from various points, including locations in Helena, Missoula, Billings, and the Flor residence in Miles City. The undertaking operated under the name "Montana Cannabis."
In approximately the summer of 2010, NICHOLS moved to the premises on which the State Nursery is located. Witnesses would have testified that NICHOLS assisted in the operation at the facility by, among other things, acting as an armed security guard for the undertaking.
In 2010, law enforcement began an investigation of the drug trafficking crimes and a cooperating witness would have testified that he/she assisted members of the conspiracy to manage money generated by the sale of the marijuana. Members of the conspiracy deposited money earned from the sale of marijuana manufactured during the conspiracy into bank accounts. The witness would have testified that, once in the bank accounts, the money was used to promote the conspiracy by providing compensation to the coconspirators or providing funds to finance the continued production and distribution of marijuana.
Bank records related to the conspiracy were examined and in excess of $1,000,000 was deposited in the various bank accounts employed to promote the conspiracy.
On March 14, 2011, law enforcement searched the Flor residence in Miles City and the greenhouses located in Helena, as well as locations in Billings, Helena, and Missoula from which marijuana was distributed.
Law enforcement seized approximately 950 marijuana plants from the greenhouses located at the former State Nursery in Helena. Agents encountered NICHOLS while searching the premises at the State Nursery. NICHOLS emerged from a camp trailer and was wearing an empty holster. Agents recovered firearms, including at least one pistol, from the camp trailer. Agents also seized other firearms from other locations on the premises of the State Nursery.
Law enforcement also seized marijuana ready for sale from distribution points maintained by the conspirators in Helena, Missoula, and Billings, as well as the Flor residence in Miles City. A number of firearms were also seized from the Flor residence in Miles City.
The conspiracy involved the manufacture of at least 1,000 marijuana plants and at least 100 kilograms of a substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana.
On August 12, 2011, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office deputies patrolled the grounds of "Rockin' The Rivers" concert in Jefferson County. They smelled marijuana and observed an apparent drug deal taking place among several males. They would have testified NICHOLS had two clear bags of a substance he was preparing to distribute to another male.
The deputies would have testified they approached NICHOLS, who they told to sit down. Instead, NICHOLS began throwing away plastic bags containing suspected marijuana, as well as a brown material. NICHOLS began to run away, refused to heed their directions to stop, and was ultimately subdued with the assistance of a bystander.
The plastic bags NICHOLS discarded were recovered and a forensic chemist for the Montana Division of Forensic Sciences would have testified the brown material contained 0.70 grams of a substance containing a detectable amount of opium, a Schedule II controlled substance.
NICHOLS faces possible penalties of 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and 3 years supervised release.
The investigation was conducted by the following federal, state and local law enforcement agencies: the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency-Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Border Patrol, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These federal agencies were assisted by local High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task forces, the Northwest Drug Task Force, the Kalispell Police Department, the Flathead County Sheriff's Office, the Missoula Police Department, the Missoula County Sheriff's Office, the Missoula High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, the Great Falls Police Department, the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, the Central Montana Drug Task Force, the Billings Police Department, the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, the Dillon Police Department, the Beaverhead County Sheriff's Office, the Park County Sheriff's Office, the Bozeman Police Department, the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office, the Belgrade Police Department, the Missouri River Drug Task Force, the Helena Police Department, the Lewis & Clark Sheriff's Office, and the Eastern Montana Drug Task Force - Miles City.