Sex Scandal Rocks Montana Town
Businessman Alleged To Have Paid Women More Than $1 Million
By Blaine HardenWashington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page A03
KALISPELL, Mont. -- Until he was arrested this year in his underwear in a motel room with a nearly naked young woman who was behind in her payments to his finance company, no businessman in this town was more respected than Richard A. Dasen Sr.
He had won the "Great Chief" award, the highest honor a local business leader can receive from the Chamber of Commerce. A nominating letter for the award described him as "the epitome of the reason we all want to live in the Kalispell area."
Dasen was an energetic force in the construction of a hospital, a ski resort and a large hotel that established this northwest Montana town of 15,000 as a player in the convention business of the Rocky Mountain West. He was impressively energetic, too, in charitable and social causes, serving as a church elder, helping teenagers finish high school and volunteering his time to Christian Financial Counseling, which helped people manage debts.
Since his arrest in February in a sting operation at a cut-rate local motel, police have unearthed a side of Dasen's life that, while impressively energetic, is decidedly less civic-minded.
Dasen, 62, who is married with grown children and several grandchildren, has allegedly told police that over the past decade he paid more than $1 million to have sex with a large number of young women, many of whom were in legal trouble, addicted to drugs and in debt to him, according to court documents.
When police asked Dasen how many of these women there had been, he said there had been too many to count.
Dasen apparently lost count, too, police say, of how much money he paid all these women.
Investigators counting his checks -- he paid by check, in amounts of $1,000 to $6,000 per encounter, sometimes as much as $130,000 a month -- now estimate that Dasen spent at least $5 million, said Charles Harball, the city attorney.
"He pretty much single-handedly funded the methamphetamine trade here in Kalispell for a number of years," Harball said, as women used the money Dasen paid them to pay for their habits.
Since Dasen's arrest the flow of money to local methamphetamine users seems to have dried up, Harball said, adding that there has been a "flood of petty crime from addicts seeking cash for their habit."
Police continue to investigate where Dasen's money came from.
"He had access to a lot of funds from a lot of different sources, and there is really no accounting for any of it," Harball said.
The state Department of Public Health and Human Services is also trying to find out what Dasen, as a court-appointed conservator, did with $500,000 awarded in a product-liability settlement for the long-term care of a severely brain-damaged child.
In an affidavit filed last month in the county court overseeing the conservatorship, a state social worker said the money under Dasen's control disappeared with "no formal accounting" between 1995 and 2000. Since then, the child, having turned up in the local hospital with severe malnutrition and infected ulcers on his backside, has become a ward of the state.
So far, Dasen has been charged with rape for allegedly paying a 15-year-old girl for sex. The age of consent in Montana is 16. He has also been charged with two felony counts of promoting prostitution. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and his attorney, George Best, declined to comment on any aspect of the case.
A trial on the rape and prostitution charges is scheduled for early next year, and law enforcement officials say that they are continuing an investigation into any accounting and tax irregularities concerning Dasen.
Then there is the matter of Dasen's DNA, which the state crime lab says was detected on a semen-stained bedspread in Room 233 of the Kalispell Motel 6 -- the room in which Darlene Wilcock, 26, was found strangled in April of last year. No one has been arrested in her death.
A law enforcement official familiar with the woman's autopsy report said that semen from two men was found on her body, neither of them Dasen.
The discovery of Dasen's semen at the crime scene, this official said, may simply be a coincidence, the kind of thing that can happen to a man who often has sex in motel rooms where bedspreads are rarely washed. A number of women have told police that they had sex with Dasen in the Motel 6.
Many of the women Dasen allegedly paid for sex met him when they came to Christian Financial Counseling for help in consolidating and managing their debts. Dasen ran the nonprofit organization and also owns a private finance firm, Budget Finance.
Detectives have interviewed about 40 of these women, and many of them have said that Dasen "used their indebtedness to him to coerce them to have sex," Kalispell Police Chief Frank Garner said.
If Dasen was "not satisfied with the sexual services that he was receiving, it was common for [him] to arrange for repossession of vehicles that he has purchased or funded for those females, through his finance company," according to a confidential informant's statement to police that is quoted in court documents.
Back in February, news of Dasen's arrest astonished many of his longtime business associates, political acquaintances and fellow church members. Several called the police chief to complain of overzealous law enforcement. The calls stopped, the chief said, as more details emerged about the scale of Dasen's sexual appetites.
"Dick's dark side was done with extreme discretion," said Dean Jellison, a retired lawyer and GOP activist who has known Dasen for nearly 35 years. "The news was a complete and utter shock to the community."
Part of the shock derived from the respect that Dasen had earned for his volunteer work as a financial counselor. Many judges, law enforcement officials and ministers in town had referred troubled young couples with debt problems to Dasen -- and they credit him with having saved many marriages.
"He was incredibly benevolent," said Denise Cofer, a local activist in the Christian Coalition and a Republican candidate in the fall election for county commissioner. She said that Dasen was a reliable supporter of conservative Christian causes, such as opposition to abortion.
"If there was a need in the community, he was there," she said.
While rumors about Dasen's sexual appetites may not have bubbled up to the level of judges, politicians and preachers before his arrest, they apparently had percolated down to many working-class people, especially those with debt problems.
"When my wife and I were having some problems with money five years ago, a friend recommended that we go see Dasen," said Steve Southland, who manages a warehouse in town. "But my friend knew enough to warn me not to send my wife alone."
When Dasen talked to police shortly after his arrest, he characterized his for-pay sexual activities with young women as "helping" them, according to a detective's affidavit that summarizes Dasen's conversation with police.
When a detective asked him to explain how he was helping the women, the affidavit said that Dasen replied that when he thought about it, he realized he was not helping them after all.
Dasen said, too, that he believes he has a problem, perhaps an addiction. But he added, according to the affidavit, that he believes he is more addicted to "helping" than to sex.
Awaiting trial, Dasen is free on $50,000 bail and staying with his wife at their vacation home in Arizona.