HELENA — The younger half of the father-and-son duo convicted of kidnapping a biathlete in the 1980s to be his mountain bride is facing possible prison time again after making a plea deal with prosecutors over federal drug charges.
Dan Nichols made the deal Tuesday over his employment with a medical marijuana provider raided in a statewide crackdown of large pot operations last year. He had been scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 24.
The plea deal reduces the nine drug, conspiracy and weapons charges Nichols originally faced to a single charge of conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises.
He plans to plead guilty in an Oct. 4 court hearing, said his attorney, Chad Wright. Nichols faces up to 20 years in prison, though prosecutors will recommend a lighter sentence under the deal.
Federal prosecutors said Nichols assisted in the operations of Montana Cannabis’ Helena greenhouse, where agents confiscated 950 plants in a March 2011 raid and found a handgun in the nearby camper where Nichols was staying.
The raids were among 26 search warrants executed against homes, businesses and warehouses of medical marijuana providers across Montana. The raids have resulted in more than two dozen indictments, with most pleading guilty despite protesting that they were following state medical marijuana laws.
Nichols was released from prison in 1991 following the 1984 kidnapping of Kari Swenson in southwestern Montana, a world-class biathlete whom Nichols and his father, Don, kept chained to a tree.
Swenson survived after being shot by Dan Nichols during an attempted rescue. Her would-be rescuer was shot and killed by Don Nichols, who is serving an 85-year prison sentence. The kidnapping and shootings led the father-and-son duo to be dubbed the “mountain men.”
Nichols was not immediately arrested after the March 2011 medical marijuana raids. Later 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.