In the doghouse now 

Do-gooder Dick Dasen: from pillar to pariah

Only a few days ago, before the police came to arrest him, Dick Dasen may have been Kalispell’s most respected business leader. The wealthy owner of a wholesale gasoline distributorship named City Service, he became a major stockholder in Big Mountain’s Winter Sports Inc. and a real-estate developer, building one of Kalispell’s biggest hotels—the Outlaw Inn and convention center. He served on the boards of the region’s largest and best-known businesses, including Semitool, Kalispell Regional Medical Center and BankWest.

Dasen was also revered as a benefactor of worthy causes and patron saint of Kalispell’s down-and-out. A family man and elder of his church, he frequently gave money to the needy, and charities knew to call him in hard times.

In 1999, Dasen won the Chamber of Commerce’s prestigious “Great Chief Award” for business and civic achievements. He wore a ceremonial Indian headdress during the awards dinner and basked in the warmth of a banquet hall full of friends. Only last year he was named United Way’s “Community Hero” for above-and-beyond service to charity.

At age 61, Dasen was by all appearances an earnest do-gooder whose town would be much the worse without his lifetime of community service.

Then, in a single day last week after a police action that stunned Kalispell, Dasen went from pillar of the community to pariah. Police arrested Dasen at his office in the city’s Southfield Tower, a complex he developed. At the same time, they executed search warrants on his home and two of his businesses.

Alerting the media with a salacious press release promising news about “an ongoing investigation involving the payment of money to women for sex,” Police Chief Frank Garner told the assembled reporters that Dasen had paid more than $1 million for sex with “many” women over the past 20 years, that some women were paid more than $100,000 each for sexual favors, and that police had been investigating Dasen for the past year after “people came forward with information.”

And what actual charges were filed against Dasen? Only one—solicitation of prostitution, a misdemeanor that’s rarely pressed in Kalispell and would usually draw only a small fine from a municipal judge. Garner said more charges against Dasen are likely.

The next day’s front-page headline in Kalispell’s Daily Inter Lake read: “Dick Dasen Sr. accused of paying $1 million to solicit prostitution,” and, just like that, Dasen became persona non grata across the Flathead Valley.

Joe Unterreiner, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, suddenly was acting like he’d never heard of Dasen, the chamber’s “Great Chief” only five years ago. “I don’t have anything to say about it,” Unterreiner said when we phoned and asked for comment on Dasen’s arrest. “Yesterday’s news.”

At Kalispell’s Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, where Dasen was an elder, pastor Daniel Wurster wasn’t returning reporters’ calls. “We will have no comment,” a secretary told us brusquely. At the church’s mid-morning Sunday service, there was no sign of Dasen, and no mention of him in Wurster’s sermon.

Dasen’s attorney, George Best, who is paid to defend Dasen, was the only person we could find who would do that job. But even Best wasn’t saying much. He refused to comment on the police investigation itself, but was willing to talk about what he sees as the hardball police tactics in the case.

“It strikes me as very strange,” Best said. “The man is charged with a misdemeanor. Yet the media is summoned to this event, and the headlines are unbelievable. Dick Dasen has a 30-year history of tremendous community service. Everyone has been able to count on this man for complete, no-strings-attached help, no questions asked. The man is a genuine, decent human being. How do you think he feels?”

Dasen isn’t talking to reporters. But workers at charities that Dasen helped said that if he was mixed up with prostitution or any illicit activity, they never had any inkling of it.

“He’s a personal friend of mine,” said Bill Ludwig, who runs the Lutheran church’s summer youth camp on Flathead Lake. “It just blows my mind. I’m in a total state of shock. Never once have I ever seen anything even remotely out of line with him.”

Janet Cahill, at the Violence Free Crisis Line, said Dasen wrote her personal checks to pay utility bills, rent and other debts for abused women in Kalispell.

“He never, ever refused me and never questioned my sincerity about the need,” she said. “I’d like to think of him as being good-hearted, but I don’t know anymore.”

The United Way’s Sherry Stevenswulf said her organization referred “hundreds and hundreds” of the needy to Dasen over the past 15 years for “Christian financial counseling” and help in arranging debt payments.

“We have only heard from our clients that he’s been very helpful,” she said, adding that “it is very difficult” to discuss Dasen “because of what’s happened.” She said United Way had stopped referring people to Dasen.

Meanwhile, back at Kalispell Police headquarters, the phones are ringing with callers expressing their views, both pro and con, on Dasen’s arrest. Police Chief Garner acknowledged that some citizens are complaining that police treatment of Dasen was heavy-handed.

“What will happen next?” we asked Garner.

“More,” he replied, referring vaguely to “the possibility” that Dasen paid for sexual favors from women with money from companies that he only partly owns, and to “the potential ramifications that come from those kinds of exchanges of money.”

Affidavits supporting the search warrants for Dasen’s businesses are sealed. Asked what police were looking for, Garner replied, “Evidence.”

Why didn’t police wait to arrest Dasen until they were prepared to charge him with more serious offenses (assuming there will eventually be more serious crimes to allege)?

“There’s probably a reason for that,” the chief said, and declined to elaborate.

Kalispell Police Lt. Roger Nasset was more forthcoming, saying Dasen’s arrest was partly an attempt to reassure skittish potential witnesses who feared investigators wouldn’t file charges against such a prominent community figure.

Dasen, who has pleaded innocent, is free under $1,000 bond until a hearing set for April 21. If he’s convicted of what he’s now charged with, he could be fined $1,000 and serve a year behind bars at most, but it’s exceedingly unlikely that he would go to jail for a misdemeanor.

“First, this is the beginning of a complex investigation, not just a misdemeanor,” Garner said in response to critics questioning his handling of the case. “And I’m assuming that no one wants us to condone the fact that he’s soliciting prostitutes just because he’s a pillar of the community. Mr. Dasen has helped a lot of people, and those people feel terrible that he’s gotten himself into this position. I sympathize with their feelings, but that’s not a consideration for me in this investigation.”

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