East Grand Forks man at head of big drug ring gets 10 years
By Stephen J. Lee / Grand Forks Herald
Noah Bergland, East Grand Forks, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Monday for his admitted role heading a sprawling drug ring that used 30 admitted conspirators to deal heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and pot from the Twin Cities to the Red River Valley and west to Williston, N.D.
Bergland, 27, pleaded guilty last summer to conspiring with 30 others and personally made at least $250,000 dealing drugs from 2008 through 2012, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers Monday after the Fargo court hearing.
In an agreement with federal public defender Richard Henderson, Myers recommended a sentence of 120 months followed by three years of supervised probation.
Bergland could have faced more than 21 years in prison if he hadn’t cooperated, under federal sentencing guidelines.
Authorities nicknamed the investigation Operation Noah’s Ark, and prosecutors said it brought a flood of drugs to northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota.
The investigation included the Internal Revenue Service, as well as federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and was led by Homeland Security Investigations, said Michael Feinberg, special agent of the Homeland Security’s St. Paul office that covers North Dakota.
“This investigation is a terrific example of how federal, state and local law enforcement were able to work closely together to successfully dismantle a major narcotics smuggling organization,” Feinberg said in a news release.
Unraveling the criminal money handling was key to stopping the drug dealing, Myers and Feinberg said.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson went with the deal Myers struck and ordered Bergland to turn himself in to start the 10-year sentence Sept. 3.
Erickson found that Bergland’s long history of drug and alcohol abuse caused “problems for himself, his family, his girlfriend, high school and college and with the law,” according to a court clerk’s minutes Monday after the sentencing hearing. Because Bergland has a history as “a significant drug dealer who profited from the sale of drugs,” Erickson also ordered Bergland to disclose his financial condition to federal officials during his probation “to assure his income is from legitimate sources.
Erickson also followed Myers’ recommendation in imposing a judgment of $250,000 against Bergland. That’s the amount Bergland cleared from his drug dealing, Myers said.
Bergland will serve his sentence in federal prison in Duluth, or if that doesn’t work out, in Yankton, S.D.
There is no parole in federal sentences, but inmates can earn up to 55 days per year of “good time” off the sentence.
Bergland, formerly of Roseau, Minn., is the grandson of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland under President Jimmy Carter and who previously served three terms as a Democrat in Congress representing northwest Minnesota.
The case involved 30 defendants, Myers said. All have reached deals with prosecutors and only a handful are waiting to be sentenced.
Most received terms ranging from 12 months in prison to 15 years in the case of Brian Briggs, 36, of Grand Forks, who was sentenced in January, despite a tearful plea that he and his wife be allowed to continue trying to have a child. At Briggs’ sentencing, Myers said Briggs had lied about cell phone contacts with others involving the case and otherwise didn’t cooperate as much as Bergland and others.
Myers said Bergland and Briggs and a dozen of the others also conspired to launder money and illegally use wire transfers of money in the drug conspiracy.
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Co-defendants' status revealed
According to prosecutors, 30 people were involved in a drug ring, dubbed Operation Noah’s Ark, that distributed illegal drugs from the Twin Cities to towns in northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota, including the western North Dakota town of Williston.
Along with the sentencing of ringleader Noah Bergland, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers revealed Monday the status of all 29 of his co-defendants:
Brian Warren Briggs, Grand Forks: 15 years.
Anthony Ancona, Albuquerque: 10 years.
Nicholas William Michael, Grand Forks: eight years.
Jacob Brian Skadsem, Fargo: 74 months.
Vary Rattanasithy, Blaine, Minn.: 72 months.
Andrew Michael Luehring, Fargo: 70 months.
Riley Kevin Wald, Fargo: 60 months.
Andrew Frank Przekwas, Roseau, Minn.: 48 months.
Peter Philip Basting, Grand Forks: 48 months.
Beau Ed Vasas, Spooner, Wis.: 46 months.
Rachel Renee Dahl, Roseau: 36 months.
Bryan Keith Cameron, Detroit Lakes, Minn.: 30 months.
James Robert Nord, Fargo: 30 months.
Joel Garcia, Minneapolis: 30 months.
Chad Thomas Whitney, Grand Forks: 30 months.
Tony Joe Galle, East Grand Forks: 27 months.
Kevin Ryan Magnuson, Fargo: 20 months.
Jamie Beth Johnston, Robbinsdale, Minn.: 18 months.
Christopher Lee Webb, Burnsville, Minn.:15 months.
Alexandra Evelius, Minneapolis: Six months, plus three years supervised probation.
Andrew Richard Block, Grand Forks: Six months, plus three years supervised probation.
Tara Lynn Lawrence, Minneapolis: 12 months home arrest, plus three years supervised probation.
Clinton James Rooney, St. Paul: Three years supervised probation.
Timothy Michael Ploen, Edina, Minn.: six months in halfway house, three years probation.
Grant Kristjan Thorfinnson, Grand Forks; two years supervised probation.
Awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty:
Adam Wayne Nehk, Moorhead: on July 18.
Showin Keon Davis, Golden Valley, Minn.: July 29.
Markie Ann Plutowski, East Grand Forks: July 29.
Justin Michael Aaberg, Alexandria, Minn.: Sept. 23.