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News Specialist Jed Boal reporting
Drug agents bust a large-scale cocaine ring, arresting a part-owner of a popular Salt Lake restaurant.
Investigators say a part owner in Coachman's Dinner and Pancake House was using the restaurant to run a drug organization and to deal cocaine across the Intermountain West.
Coachman's is still open for business tonight. Members of the Nikols family which owns the restaurant apparently had no idea that 37-year-old Mike Nikols was allegedly dealing drugs for nearly 20 years.
For 20 months, drug agents kept a close eye on the Coachman's restaurant, and part-owner Michael John Nikols.
This morning federal and local agents arrested Nikols and more than a dozen associates.
They're charged with running a multi-million dollar cocaine operation that smuggled the drugs from Texas and California and sold them on Utah streets.
"We hope we put a dent in it, by breaking down this organization and putting a stop to it," says David Yocom, Salt Lake District Attorney.
Yocom says Nikols has used the restaurant as his operation hub since 1986.
Drug agents say Nikols ran the organization with two lieutenants, Douglas Reynolds and Richard Madsen. Five others helped bring in the drugs and distribute them.
"We do know that we've gotten all of the people that are at the top end of this organization, and some of the people at the street level," says Craig Watson, assistant chief investigator.
Investigators say Nikols was moving one to two kilos of cocaine every month for the last 11 years. They started to get tips about the drug dealing from informants 10 years ago, but didn't have enough solid information to launch an investigation until 2001.
"These things have to become known after a thorough investigation, and what we've done here with surveillance and wire tapping and various things we have to do to make out our case," Yocom says.
Police also seized guns, cash, two homes, several vacant lots and two cars owned by Nikols -- property investigators say the suspect could not afford.
"His major source of income for at least the last ten years has been drug dealing," says Clark Harms, assistant district attorney.
KSL News spoke with Nick Nikols, brother of the man arrested. He said his family was completely unaware their restaurant was being used for drug trafficking.
Investigators think the activity was taking place in the office and the parking lot, not in the restaurant itself.