Dasen undone 

How Flathead lawmen toppled a pillar of the community

Richard A. Dasen, 62, moved to the Flathead from Michigan in 1968. In 1972, he and a partner built the Outlaw Inn, which he later sold for $9.3 million. He owned Budget Finance, helped develop the Ashley Square and Southfield Tower office parks with his company Peak Development, was one of the largest shareholders in the corporation that owns Big Mountain ski resort, and served on the board of directors of Kalispell Regional Medical Center, BankWest, Semitool and Montana Medical Benefit Plan. He volunteered his time with the non-profit Christian Financial Counseling, which helped people work their way out of debt, and had served as a church elder. Dasen is married with four grown children and 17 grandchildren.

On Feb. 11, 2004, Kalispell police arrested Dasen on a misdemeanor prostitution charge after a sting operation at a Kalispell hotel. Later, 12 prostitution-related felony charges were added to the misdemeanor. Nearly all of the women alleged to have prostituted themselves were addicted to methamphetamine, and over the years, according to their own testimony, they spent much of the money Dasen paid them on the drug.

On May 20, 2005, a jury found Dasen guilty on five charges, including sexual abuse of a minor, making him eligible for up to 126 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for July 18.

The following account of the building of the case against Dasen is compiled from interviews with Kalispell detective Kevin McCarvel and Flathead County Attorneys Lori Adams and Dan Guzynski.

Detective Kevin McCarvel first heard the rumors late in the summer of 2002.

The baby-faced, 32-year-old detective with the Northwest Drug Task Force, another detective and a state drug agent were parked in front of a Kalispell store, in a clandestine meeting with an informant. After telling them about methamphetamine use in the area, the man added one more tip.

“Just to let you know, there’s a wealthy businessman in town who’s paying young girls to have sex with him,” the informant said. The informant was unhappy that a lot of this money was going directly to the meth trade. According to McCarvel, 85 percent of his task force’s time was being spent fighting meth. The drug had almost universal appeal in Kalispell, but it was hitting the blue-collar community especially hard. If what the informant had told McCarvel was true, there might be a way to significantly reduce the cash flowing into the meth market with just one bust.

Nothing was heard of the businessman again for months. McCarvel continued his work on the streets, often dealing directly with addicts and their families.

In December 2002 he had another hit. McCarvel and another detective drove out to a residential neighborhood late on a cold December night and met with a man, who jumped into their SUV. The informant, the father of a meth addict, typically gave them quantities and prices of drugs being moved through the Flathead Valley, as well as names of people moving them, but this night he added that a wealthy local man was embroiled in the drug trade.

McCarvel could tell the man was holding something back, waiting to see how the detectives handled the hint, and whether he could trust them before revealing more.

“He was being kind of cloak and dagger about it,” McCarvel says of the information he received that day, which was too vague to act on.

Then, five months later, on a bright, sunny day in May 2003, McCarvel was searching the home of a suspected meth user who was on probation.

McCarvel had heard of meth houses in such squalor that the floorboards sagged under the weight and wetness of dog urine. This home, he says, “was fairly well kept” for a meth house. But while it looked like any other home, detectives turned up marijuana, methamphetamine, syringes and other paraphernalia.

As McCarvel conducted the search, an older man smoking a cigarette at the kitchen table watched him. It was the same man who had earlier told him about the wealthy businessman with his fingers in Kalispell’s meth trade.

Finally the smoking man spoke.

“Did you guys happen to follow up on that info I gave you?” McCarvel recalls him asking. “No,” McCarvel replied. “We need more information than that.”

“Dick Dasen,” the man blurted out.

“Dick Dasen what?”

“He’s the man putting money in the hands of these girls.”

McCarvel, who had grown up in the Flathead Valley, had once worked as a houseman at one of Dasen’s former businesses, The Outlaw Inn, between semesters at the University of Montana. He had heard about Dasen’s work with Christian Financial Counseling service.

McCarvel knew that Dasen wasn’t just anybody.

Now he was hearing Dasen’s name from the lips of someone involved in Kalispell’s meth world.

“To have his name mentioned in that context, I didn’t understand it initially,” McCarvel says. “A lot of times you hear rumors about this person or that person that is powerful in town.”

At first, McCarvel wondered, “What’s making this person say this?”

But it was as if the informant had broken a spell by saying Dasen’s name. Throughout the spring of 2003, McCarvel says he could hardly talk to meth users or meth informants without Dasen’s name coming up.

He remembers one man, a meth addict under arrest for partner assault, who told police he had information. When McCarvel and another detective conducted an interview, the man asked, “Have you guys ever heard of Dick Dasen?”

The addict, fidgeting relentlessly, proceeded to outline allegations that would become recurrent themes of McCarvel’s investigation.

The addict named Kimberly Niese, who later testified to helping procure prostitutes for Dasen. He said most meetings with Dasen involved oral sex, and were often held at local hotels.

He said he knew some of the “Dasen girls” quite well, and had even waited in hotel parking lots during rendezvous. The term “Dasen girls” itself had become common parlance. McCarvel heard it so often, he began to use the term himself.

The information kept pouring in, and soon McCarvel heard Dasen was having sex with underage girls, and that he was spending thousands, maybe even millions of dollars, on dozens of women. Most of the money Dasen supplied, McCarvel heard, the women spent on meth. McCarvel realized that if he could take Dasen down, he could hobble the meth trade in the Flathead.

But as McCarvel gathered his information, he realized something else. If a case ever did get to court, Dasen would have the money to put up a substantial defense. So, in early spring 2003, he brought the case to the Flathead County Attorney’s office, and deputy county attorney Dan Guzynski.

Guzynski was not yet familiar with Dasen. McCarvel told him the businessman’s history, and Guzynski agreed the case needed to be overwhelming to have any chance. As it stood, it would be the word of criminals and meth addicts against one of the valley’s most prominent businessmen. And besides having a lot of money, Dasen had a lot of friends.

The latter fact raised two concerns. One: if they went after Dasen, would they be supported by their superiors, who might be friends of Dasen’s?

“A lot of people were telling [McCarvel] that Dasen had friends in high places,” Guzynski remembers. “[Dasen] wasn’t worried about being caught.”

To ensure support from the people above them, they needed an airtight case.

They also worried that Dasen might have ears in their offices, that word would get back to him. So the men kept the Dasen case on a need-to-know basis.

Both knew they needed more than the testimony of the women to whom Dasen had traded money for sex. They needed first-hand evidence. They needed to catch Dasen red-handed.

Their chance appeared in June 2003, when a woman whose younger sister was involved with Dasen volunteered to help set up a sting operation. The woman placed a call to Leah Marshall, who later admitted to procuring women for Dasen, and asked if she could set up an “appointment,” the preferred euphemism for a hook-up with Dasen.

“Had [Marshall] said, ‘What are you talking about,’ that would have made me think,” McCarvel said. Instead, Marshall seemed unsurprised by the request.

To make sure there was no mistake, the informant asked specifically what would be required of her sexually.

“He isn’t going to do anything kinky, is he?” the informant asked Marshall.

“Probably not,” Marshall responded.

But in subsequent phone calls, Marshall became evasive about setting up the appointment. McCarvel, who had been saving up vacation time, took a month off from his detective work in order to finish building a new home for his family. When he returned from vacation in September and called the informant, she made a confession. She had gone to see Dasen, and received $2,000. She claimed they did not have sex. When McCarvel asked if she would be willing to set up another appointment with Dasen, one police could monitor, she said Dasen had become paranoid and “cut off” all the Dasen girls.

McCarvel began to doubt the informant’s credibility, and decided to quit working with her. Later, he heard she had threatened the case by telling Marshall, probably after the first monitored call was made, that police had listened in.

Without the informant, McCarvel’s case was stuck.

“I was still getting information,” McCarvel says, “but it was the same type over and over.”

Finally, in October 2003, Guzynski had a talk with McCarvel.

“You’re spinning your wheels,” Guzynski told him. “Go out and work drug cases.”

This didn’t sit well with McCarvel.

“I walked out of there like the kid who’d been told, ‘No, you can’t play,’” McCarvel says. “It bothered me. But we were running into a wall.”

McCarvel went back onto the streets and continued his work as a drug cop. But as he resumed busting meth dealers and users, Dasen’s name continued popping up.

“I was trying to follow Dan’s advice, but it kept slapping me in the face,” McCarvel says. “We’d be executing search warrants on drug users’ vehicles, and we would find check stubs from Christian Financial.”

The evidence continued to pile up, but it was still just circumstantial.

“We had a lot of smoke,” McCarvel says, “but no fire.”

Then, in January 2004, Holli Rose set a torch to Dasen’s world, and her own.

Rose, a meth addict, was at the county probation and parole office being interviewed by her parole officer after having been arrested on drug charges the week before. She said she had information on the drug scene in Kalispell. McCarvel and another detective were called down.

Rose, an unusually thin woman in her 20s with short brown hair, gave detectives some information, but nothing particularly interesting. What interested McCarvel was that Rose had often been mentioned as one of Dasen’s girls.

Until then, McCarvel says he had never asked directly about Dasen, for fear that someone would tell Dasen the police were on to him. Instead he had let people volunteer the information.

This time, though, McCarvel decided it was time to do the asking.

“I don’t know what it was,” he says.

“Do you know Dick Dasen?” he asked Rose.

At the mention of Dasen’s name, Rose’s posture changed.

“You could just see the tension,” McCarvel says.

Rose denied any knowledge of Dasen.

“Based on her body language, we knew she was lying,” McCarvel says.

The detectives and parole officer stepped outside the room. They all agreed she was lying, but rather than confront her about allegations they had heard, they decided to drop the subject and end the interview.

The strategy worked.

An hour later, McCarvel got another call from Rose’s parole officer.

“Holli’s back in my office,” she said. “She’s upset, she’s crying, and she would like to sit down and tell you guys the truth.”

Rose laid out the Dasen story, telling the detectives she had received thousands of dollars from him. When all the checks were added up, Dasen had given her $23,000. Rose corroborated much of what they had already heard about Dasen, but most importantly, she agreed to take part in a sting operation.

“It’s like somebody flipped a switch,” McCarvel says. “Something changed in Holli’s mind. She made the decision that she was committed to getting out of this lifestyle. She wanted to get clean, to be a good mother.”

Rose’s coming out gave McCarvel confidence in the case.

“For a woman, one of the worst things they can be called is a prostitute,” McCarvel says. “For them to admit that, what are they really getting? They were losing money, can’t support their habit any more. They were earning more money in 20 minutes than they would in a month.”

On Feb. 11, 2004, McCarvel got a call from Rose. She’d arranged a meeting with Dasen at Kalispell’s Blue and White Motel. McCarvel and other officers met at the pastel $34-per-night motel, where they had surreptitiously rented two rooms and set up video and audio surveillance.

Rose arrived late in the afternoon, and Dasen arrived shortly thereafter, dressed causally in khakis and a button-up shirt. He went into the room where Rose awaited.

“His demeanor really set what his intentions were,” McCarvel said. “He didn’t seem nervous meeting a meth addict nearly young enough to be his granddaughter.”

The two sat on the bed and talked about Rose’s financial situation. She told him she owed her parents bail money.

“I’ll take care of it,” Dasen told her.

She told him that she had a car payment due.

“I’ll take care of it,” he repeated.

She told him the rest of it.

“I’ll take care of it.”

And then she went into the bathroom, stripped down to her bra and underwear, and came back into the room. There was no reaction from Dasen, who had stripped down to his underwear and socks and returned to the bed.

Rose lay down next to him, and they continued to talk about her money troubles as Dasen massaged her feet.

“If Mr. Dasen had rubbed her feet and put on his shoes and walked out, he would have been fine,” McCarvel says.

Instead, Dasen reached up and began to pull down Rose’s underwear.

McCarvel and his fellow officers knocked on the hotel door, announced who they were, waited a few seconds, opened the door and walked in.

Dasen remained on the bed, still in his socks and underwear. According to McCarvel, Dasen seemed neither surprised nor completely at ease. He didn’t act angry or defensive. “He was a complete gentleman,” McCarvel said.

If anything he seemed sheepish, embarrassed.

Dasen was arrested and charged with solicitation of prostitution, a misdemeanor. McCarvel now had an important piece of the puzzle. He could show that the behavior described by his witnesses matched what he himself had witnessed, and recorded, at the Blue and White Motel. But he still needed more than that to make the case rock-solid. He needed a money trail.

The sting led to that, too, by justifying search warrants.

Police executed the warrants on Dasen’s home and two businesses, Peak Financial and Budget Finance, the same day they arrested him. It was in his office at Peak that officers found some of the most damning evidence, including sex toys the Dasen girls said he brought to some of their meetings, and photographs stored on his computer of two girls, age 15 and 16, in his own home—photos that were, as Guzynski described them, “as hardcore as you could get.” The photographs could help detectives support charges of intercourse without consent (because the girls involved were below the age of consent), sexual abuse of a minor, and aggravated promotion of prostitution. Those charges alone could have brought Dasen a life sentence.

When word got out that Dasen had been arrested, the Kalispell Police Department received more than 30 calls from people claiming to have information about Dasen. Witnesses began to come forward.

“There was a lot of fear from witnesses about testifying before the sting,” Guzynski said. “The sting took away that fear. At that point, everyone saw that law enforcement was taking this seriously.”

Detectives began gathering bank and hotel records that corroborated witness statements about when they had met Dasen, when they were paid, and how much.

But the case hit an unexpected snag on Feb. 24.

On that day, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision holding that both warrants and applications for warrants must include a list of the items to be seized during a search.

The search warrants for Dasen’s home and businesses only referenced the list of items spelled out on the warrant application. The warrants themselves did not name specific items.

McCarvel got a call from his lieutenant that day.

“I’ve got some bad news for you,” his lieutenant told him. “The warrants are no good.”

At first McCarvel thought he was joking–the warrants-are-no-good gag is apparently a prank cops like to play on each other. When McCarvel realized the seriousness of the situation, he called Guzynski to tell him the warrants were defective.

“No they’re not,” replied Guzynski, who had carefully prepared the documents himself, “I did not want them to be bad because of some legal technicality.”

But suddenly, he realized, they were. Hundreds of man-hours spent preparing this case and searching Dasen’s businesses and homes—potentially wasted.

At this point, Guzynski says, Dasen attorney George Best and his friends in the community became “indignant” over what they called an “illegal search” of Dasen’s property and businesses.

Best said Dasen suffered “irreparable damage” as a result of the search, and that Best wanted all seized items returned immediately. He threatened the county and the police department with lawsuits. A press release from the vice president of Budget Finance accused police of treating his employees badly during the search, saying, “You would think that the police would have the courtesy to apologize to the employees…we are hopeful they will do so in the near future.”

The release went on to say “All of this apparently came about as part of the vendetta against Dick Dasen…Dick has been charged with behaving badly, but we who have been associated with him continue to respect the work he has done to improve our community and the lives of hundreds of people who have participated in his free financial counseling service.”

Things looked bad, but Guzynski wasn’t ready to give up. Over the next few days, he worked late into the evening, trying to find some way around the problem. Finally, sitting in front of his computer late one evening, it came to him.

On March 3, 2004, the county attorney’s office gave Dasen, Best and Budget Finance everything they asked for. They returned all the seized items in boxes, which they stacked in the lobbies of the businesses, and at Dasen’s home. Then, a few hours later, they returned, conducted new searches, this time with up-to-date warrants, and re-seized all the evidence. The vice president of Budget was infuriated, and nearly had to be removed from the premises.

“They never thought we’d do something as bold as this,” Guzynski said.

With the siezed evidence in hand, the case against Dasen began to fall into place.

In the following months, the county attorney’s office filed 13 charges against Dasen, including one count of sexual intercourse without consent; aggravated promotion of prostitution by inducing, encouraging or otherwise causing a person under the age of 18 become or remain a prostitute; sexual abuse of children; one misdemeanor count of prostitution, and 8 felony counts (prostitution becomes a felony after the first count). In all, Dasen faced more than 300 years in prison.

The case was so huge, with so many witnesses and so much evidence, that the attorney’s office assigned deputy attorney Lori Adams to team up with Guzynski on the case. Dasen had written so many checks to the women that when they were organized at the police station, stacks of checks stretched from McCarvel’s office to the station’s entrance, 50 yards away.

The trial began April 25. Dasen had pleaded not guilty to all charges. His defense said he never knew that some of the girls were underage, that there was never any agreement the girls had to have sex to get money. The Dasen girls were painted as succubi, who fooled Dasen and used sex to drain him of his money. Dasen, his defense said, believed he had been helping the women the entire time, and that they were sexually attracted to him. During the trial, he testified that women came to him because he was known as “some kind of extraordinary lover.” Indeed, the girls admitted Dasen had never had a formal agreement to exchange money for sex, but that it was implied. Witnesses for the defense attested to getting money from Dasen without having sex with him, and evidence was introduced that the underage women Dasen had sex with had gone to lengths to hide their age.

The defense did a careful job of presenting the prosecution’s case as trumped-up charges against a man guilty of nothing more than adultery on a massive scale. Dasen came across as he had in the hotel room—gentlemanly and somewhat embarrassed. Photos taken of Dasen during trial even showed him smiling.

One of the first things the prosecution did to combat the defense’s deluded-grandfather image was show the jury photographs Dasen had taken of underage women.

“We wanted to make sure the jury knew how serious the case was,” says Adams. “A lot of people were cynical—thought it was much ado about nothing. This gave them a reason to be there.”

The photographs led off the long parade of ugly details: the pink rubber bands in the braces of one of the underage girls Dasen photographed; Dasen’s wife of 43 years testifying on his behalf, saying “he’s a good husband, believe it or not”; the defense’s assertion that Leah Marshall was exchanging reduced jail time for prostitution and forgery charges by testifying against Dasen; Rose testifying that she had mixed feelings about the sting, but did it because “if that money was available, I’d always go back to it, and not only me, but other girls in the same situation”; the broken lives of women living out of their cars, in abusive relationships, addicted to drugs and, in the end, resorting to sex with a rich old man to pay for their habits.

On April 20, after a six-week trial and 10 hours of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict.

“We were getting nervous, the longer it took,” said Adams. Months of work, thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours were on the line. So were the final years of life for a man once respected in the community.

The first two verdicts read were “not guilty.” Adams began to think the trial was lost. The next charge, sexual abuse of a minor, came back guilty. That charge alone carries a sentence of up to 100 years. At one point, Dasen sent a forlorn glance back at his family, some of whom had begun to cry.

In the end, Dasen was found not guilty of aggravated promotion of prostitution, sexual intercourse without consent and some of the individual charges of prostitution. The jury did find him guilty of promotion of prostitution, three felony counts of prostitution and one misdemeanor count. In all, he could face up to 126 years in prison.

After the trial, Guzynski said he was happy with the results, but no one was left gloating over the verdict.

“What’s on my mind tonight is his family,” Guzynski said after the trial. “Today, his family was the victim.”

Today, both Guzynski and Adams continue to work at the county attorney’s office, but with far more reasonable schedules. During the trial, they said, a typical work week consisted of seven 12-hour days.

On May 23, McCarvel was transferred from the Northwest Drug Task Force to a full-time detective position with the Kalispell Police Department, where he investigates felony crimes. He says he can’t point to any specific numbers that say meth use is down since Dasen’s arrest, but, “I feel much better not having millions and millions being poured into it.”

Dick Dasen has since been denied a request for bond, with the judge saying “No one with a daughter” would think Dasen is not a threat. Sentencing is scheduled for July 18. Dasen plans to appeal the verdict.

The women he was involved with appear to have fared better. According to McCarvel and Guzynski both, nearly all of them, including Rose, have gotten off meth and have begun to straighten their lives out.

“Without Dasen’s money, a lot of these women went into rehab,” Guzynski says. “Dasen always said he was helping these girls,” McCarvel adds. “These girls are doing much better helping themselves.”

ppeters@missoulanews.com

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