New guilty plea in synthetic drug case that killed PR teen
FARGO -- An East Grand Forks man pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court here to conspiring with Andrew Spofford to distribute large amounts hallucinogens as well as cocaine and marijuana.
Scott Joseph Anthony, 27, is the 10th person charged in what federal prosecutors say was a Grand Forks-based conspiracy to produce and deal synthetic psychedelic drugs that in June led to the deaths of two teenagers and the hospitalization of at least five others.
Anthony and four others have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutor in the case, which is focused on Spofford, 22, who grew up in Fargo and attended UND. Investigators with the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force who arrested Spofford in June said he told them he was a "hobby chemist," had ordered chemicals from Europe and elsewhere to make hallucinogens and solicited others to sell his products.
Spofford and four other former UND students, including one woman, have pleaded not guilty and are set for trial this fall on charges that could put them in prison for 20 years or more.
Anthony and the previous four men who have reached plea deals with Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, are expected to get reduced sentences, depending on any previous criminal history and other factors in their individual cases.
Unlike Spofford and several others, Anthony is not charged in connection with the alleged drug overdose deaths of Christian Bjerk and Elijah Stai.
Bjerk, 18, died June 11 in Grand Forks, and Stai, who was from Park Rapids, Minn., died June 15 in Altru Hospital. He became comatose June 13 in East Grand Forks after ingesting a hallucinogen mixed into chocolate, prosecutors say.
Myers said Spofford made the drugs ingested by Bjerk and Stai.
Because Anthony came to federal prosecutors and offered to plead guilty, waiving his right to a grand jury hearing, and has been otherwise cooperative, Myers recommended Anthony be released pending his sentencing, which U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson set for Dec. 17.
The charge to which Anthony pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $1 million fine and three years of supervised probation after his incarceration.
Myers is recommending Judge Erickson lessen the sentence, but until any previous criminal history or other factors are determined by the judge during the pre-sentence investigation, it's not certain what his sentence will be under federal sentencing guidelines.
Anthony pleaded guilty to possessing a relatively large amount of drugs, the equivalent of 400 kilograms of marijuana under federal drug-equivalency rules.
It included 3,000 pills of an ecstasy-like psychedelic, a pound of cocaine and 106 grams of hallucinogens, some of them marketed as "acid," according to Myers' complaint cited by Judge Erickson in court.
Anthony said he saw Spofford making "chocolates," laced with hallucinogenic drugs Spofford had cooked and that he bought a variety of the synthetic drugs as well as cocaine and pot from Spofford and re-sold them to others, from January 2011 until this summer.
Because Anthony is "not in a similar situation to other defendants in this case," Myers told Erickson it's unlikely he will request that Anthony be ordered to pay restitution as part of his sentence.
Anthony was arrested by UND police April 12 after an officer saw the black 1994 Eagle Talon Anthony was driving take a wild turn off University Avenue on North 20th Street. Anthony and his passenger, Dillon Breen, 25, were "shaking," and acting nervous, according to the UND police report. A search of the vehicle found eight "chocolates containing 'shrooms'," according to the police report, referring to the psychedelic drug mixed into the chocolates. The two had other drugs, too, police said.
Anthony and Breen were stopped by police at 2100 Fourth Ave. North, about a block from Spofford's home at 2200 Fourth Ave. N., where prosecutors say Spofford cooked synthetic drugs and where Spofford and his roommate, William Fox, were arrested June 14.
Anthony and Breen initially were charged in state district court in Grand Forks with drug-related felonies. But in July, the state charges against Anthony were dismissed because it was taken up by federal prosecutors. Breen's case was dropped for insufficient evidence, according to court records.