Accused drug maker implicated in PR teen's death says he's not guilty
The Grand Forks man being looked at by local, state and federal law enforcement authorities as the center of a drug-making operation they say has killed two teens and hospitalized several more says he's not guilty of any of the charges he's facing, said his attorney Wednesday in the man's first public comments.
"He intends to plead not guilty," said Ted Sandberg of his client, Andrew Spofford, 22, who is charged with felonies related to making and selling dangerous synthetic drugs. "We intend to fight this all the way through the process."
In fact, his client himself is the victim of unlawful action by the court itself, Sandberg said during a bond hearing Wednesday in Grand Forks.
Spofford has been held without bond in the Grand Forks County jail since June 14, even though investigators found "no weapons, no guard dogs," none of the trappings of "a Mexican drug cartel," or other "complicated drug cases," said Sandberg said.
"It's absolutely unreasonable and illegal, his being held without any bond whatsoever," Sandberg told state District Judge Joel Medd.
Spofford grew up in Fargo, attended Catholic schools from kindergarten until graduating from Shanley High School and has no prior criminal history, Sandberg said.
Prosecutors, however, said Spofford was a flight risk and admitted mail-ordering drug-making chemicals from Europe and traveling to California recently after cooking a big batch of drugs.
Spofford also is the target of federal and Minnesota state officials who think he made and sold drugs that led to two deaths and several dangerous overdoses in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Tom Falck, assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County, told Judge Medd.
"Mr. Spofford is definitely a cause for concern for the safety of young people in our community," Falck said. "And the charges he faces may be the lesser of what may be coming."
Medd set Spofford's bond at a relatively high $300,000 cash or surety. Sandberg said he didn't know if Spofford, who remained in jail Wednesday night, could make his bail.
After the hearing, Sandberg said he visited the U.S. attorney's office in Fargo and learned his client is the focus of a federal investigation.
But he's focusing on defending Spofford against the state charges, mainly the Class A felony count alleging he made, with intent to deliver, synthetic ecstasy, or MDMA, and sold it to a "Steve" on June 14. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Spofford also faces a Class C felony charge of reckless endangerment alleging on June 10 he provided a synthetic hallucinogen, known as DOC or FM, to at least five people, including two juveniles who overdosed.
He also faces two misdemeanor marijuana charges.
The formal charges against Spofford don't explicitly say he caused the death Christian Bjerk,18, who died June 11 after ingesting a synthetic drug with Wesley Sweeney, 18, and "C.J.," a 15-year-old boy.
Drug web detailed
But investigators' documents indicate they think Spofford made drugs that led to Bjerk's death and the death of Elijah Stai, 17, on June 15 in Altru Hospital.
Investigators say Stai overdosed June 13 in the East Grand Forks home of Adam Budge, 18.
Budge told investigators he bought a homemade hallucinogen from Spofford and mixed it into melted chocolate candy and shared it with Stai, according to court filings.
Budge remains in jail in Crookston facing third-degree murder and manslaughter charges related to Stai's death; his attorney DeWayne Johnston said Budge also will face federal charges.
Sweeney remains in jail in Grand Forks, facing state felony charges of reckless endangerment alleging he gave a synthetic hallucinogen to Bjerk and "C.J.", a 15-year-old boy June 10.
Investigators say witnesses said Sweeney got the drug from Budge.
Spofford's roommate, Michael Fox, faces minor pot charges in the case but is listed as a co-defendant.
According to Grand Forks County Sheriff's Deputy Joel Lloyd, who is on the local Narcotics Task Force, Budge said he saw about $20,000 in cash and lots of homemade drugs lying around Spofford's apartment in late May, including the stuff Budge later gave to Stai.
Budge said he first knew Spofford as "Lunchbox," a guy who offered him $4,000 a month to make drugs for him.
"Budge said that 'Lunchbox' bragged that he had 2,000 hits of ecstasy and that he thought it was funny because it flooded the streets of Grand Forks," Lloyd wrote in his affidavit.
Lloyd also said the arrest of Ronald Norling III, 23, on May 22 just north of Grand Forks led investigators to find a small cardboard box left by Norling in some woods contained drugs and documents linked to Spofford, drugs and the two deaths.
The documents included invoices in Spofford's name for a chemical called DIM, and a "Materials Safety Data Sheet," referring to a substance as "synthetic chemical for research purposes only -- not for human use."
A separate drug case by the task force led to a "confidential informant," who said he knew of Spofford's drug making and dealing, and who "described Spofford as being the 'Charley Manson' of chemicals," according to Lloyd.