Mont. sheriff captures dangerous 'mountain man'

Once kidnapped world-class athlete, was wanted on federal drug charges

By Matt Volz
Associated Press

A former "mountain man" known for kidnapping a world-class athlete years ago didn't turn himself in on federal drug charges as previously reported, but was captured as the result of "old-fashioned police work," the U.S. Marshals Service said Wednesday.

However, the Montana sheriff whose officers arrested Dan Nichols Tuesday in a Walmart parking lot in Butte said he reviewed dispatcher tapes and is sticking to his account that Nichols arranged to surrender through a third party.

Regardless of how Nichols was captured, the result was the same: A potentially dangerous fugitive is now under lock and key, Butte-Silver Bow Sheriff John Walsh said.

"Everyone's safe and that's the most important thing," he said.

Nichols, 47, had been on the run since March, when he failed to appear in court on charges of drug possession and intent to distribute during a rock concert in Three Forks last August.

Federal prosecutors became involved in April, charging Nichols with participating in a medical marijuana organization in Helena they say illegally grew and distributed more than $1.7 million in pot.

Marshals have been searching for Nichols since the federal arrest warrant was issued on numerous drug possession, distribution and manufacture charges, along with two weapons counts. Last week, they received reports of Nichols sightings in Bozeman and Three Forks, Chief Deputy Marshal Rod Ostermiller said.

Deputy marshals interviewed people in those towns and learned of several places Nichols had been frequenting. They found that he was changing vehicles and his modes of communications to elude capture, Ostermiller said.

They could not pinpoint where he was living, nor would Ostermiller say whether they suspected anybody was helping him, but deputy marshals learned from their sources that Nichols was traveling to and from Butte on certain days.

On Tuesday, investigators learned that Nichols was in Butte and that he was to show up at the Walmart, Ostermiller said. They asked Butte law enforcement to apprehend him, and there were three officers waiting for Nichols when he pulled up in his 1982 Honda Prelude.

Nichols was arrested without incident but had not intended to turn himself in, Ostermiller said.

"I would deem this a success due to old-fashioned police work," Ostermiller said. "Deputy marshals got out there and conducted a lot of interviews."

Walsh announced the arrest Tuesday, saying Nichols had informed marshals that he would be in the Walmart parking lot to surrender between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Walsh said Wednesday that he reviewed the tapes of the conversation between a deputy marshal and his dispatcher. The deputy told the dispatcher that a source had informed the marshals service that Nichols would be in the parking lot at the specified time and would be turning himself in. The tapes led him to continue to believe that Nichols surrendered, Walsh said.

Nichols is better known as the son in the so-called "mountain man" duo who kidnapped biathlete Kari Swenson in 1984 to make 22-year-old Swenson his wife. Nichols' father, Don Nichols, was recently denied parole for his 85-year sentence related to the kidnapping and shooting death of Alan Goldstein, a would-be rescuer.

Dan Nichols was released from prison in 1991.

Nichols was transferred to marshals' custody to await an initial court appearance Thursday in Missoula, where he will hear the charges against him.

Two of the drug charges carry prison sentences of between five and 40 years upon conviction, while a third carries a five-year prison sentence. Possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offense carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

It was not immediately clear if Nichols has a lawyer.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press

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