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Man pleads guilty to drug conspiracy on oil patch

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DAVE KOLPACK | October 17, 2013 10:03 AM EST | AP

FARGO, N.D. — FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A man accused of participating in a violent drug trafficking ring in the North Dakota oil patch pleaded guilty Wednesday to drug conspiracy and weapons charges.

Brian Dahl, 50, also known as Kodiak, is charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and brandishing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 17 years and maximum penalty of life in prison.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Dahl was part of an organized gang that used violence to "enforce loyalty within their crew" and keep them from talking with authorities. Police found 22 guns during a Jan. 29 search of Dahl's residence in Williston.

Purdon said other members of the gang were involved in the August 2012 beating and kidnapping of Robert Osterhout, who was left for dead in Montana. Jeffrey Butler, also known as Pops, is accused of ordering others to kill Osterhout, who survived the attack.

"It appears, based on the evidence, that the Kodiak-Butler crew were involved in a large-scale methamphetamine operation in the Williston area, were heavily armed and were not afraid to use violence in connection with their activities," Purdon said.

Dahl, who is not charged in the kidnapping, told a judge during Wednesday's hearing in Bismarck that he was dealing drugs with Butler. Dahl's lawyer, Chad McCabe, said his client had nothing to do the kidnapping, adding, "From what I understand, he is not a leader of any organization."

Prosecutors said Dahl was involved in an assault on Zachary Mills, one of five people charged in the kidnapping of Osterhout.

"Both of these assaults," Purdon said, referring to Osterhout and Mills, "were this crew enforcing the drug dealer's code of silence."

The meth conspiracy is one of several high-profile cases in the booming western North Dakota oil patch in the last year. Federal authorities this summer charged 22 people with conspiracy to sell heroin and other drugs on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, which investigators linked to a national drug trafficking ring seeking to set up shop in the area.

Authorities say Dahl came to North Dakota from Washington state a year and a half ago.

"These charges are the result of cooperation between federal law enforcement and the local law enforcement in Williston and Williams County," Purdon said.