WHITEFISH – A 27-year-old Whitefish man has pleaded guilty to a federal drug trafficking charge that alleges he was part of a conspiracy to distribute dozens of pounds of methamphetamine in Flathead County.

Kenneth Daniel Chrestensen appeared for the change-of-plea hearing Thursday in Missoula before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, and could be sentenced to life in prison and five years of supervised release, as well as a fine of up to $10 million.

Chrestensen pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. A plea agreement in the case says prosecutors will afford the man some leniency in exchange for his accepting responsibility in the case. Sentencing in the case is set for Oct. 26.

According to an offer of proof by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Elliott, law enforcement officials began investigating Chrestensen after they were tipped off about his involvement in the drug-trafficking ring, which distributed pound quantities of meth from California to Flathead County.

Relying on confidential informants, detectives with the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force, the state Department of Justice’s Criminal Investigation Division and Homeland Security Investigations launched a joint investigation into Chrestensen and other defendants in August 2011.

One unidentified source in the investigation told agents that he or she received 39 pounds of methamphetamine from Chrestensen during a period beginning in the spring of 2010 and ending in October 2011, when the source was arrested with a half-pound of the drug.

Another confidential informant told detectives that he or she worked for Chrestensen as “muscle” to collect drug debts from meth distributors and customers, while a third source admitted traveling to California to buy pounds of meth from Chrestensen and sell it in Flathead County.

Two other defendants, Lucas John Brager and Brandy Sue Burkowski, were also charged in the case and have pleaded guilty to similar charges.

Chrestensen is currently detained pending sentencing.

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 531-9745 or at tscott@missoulian.com.

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