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East Grand Forks man at center of major drug case

Noah Bergland

FARGO -- An East Grand Forks man who oversees packaging at the American Crystal Sugar plant in Drayton, N.D., is charged in federal court with organizing a drug trafficking ring that supplied heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs across Minnesota and North Dakota.

Noah Robert Bergland is named as the ringleader in a 16-page grand jury indictment unsealed last week in U.S. District Court in Fargo.

Nineteen people are charged in the indictment, which was filed May 2 but didn't become public until the last of the defendants made a first court appearance Friday.

All 19 defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute controlled substances. Fourteen of them face money laundering charges, and 10 of those defendants also are accused of illegally using cellphones and money wiring services to support the operation.

Bergland, 26, formerly of Roseau, Minn., is the only defendant charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, dating back to January 2008. The charge alleges Bergland "occupied a position of organizer, supervisor and manager" of at least nine other defendants in the operation.

Reached by phone Wednesday at the Drayton plant, Bergland said, "I am currently fighting the charges." He said he couldn't comment further.

Investigation ongoing

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Myers declined to comment on the case, which he said is in the early stages. He said the investigation is ongoing.

All of the defendants have entered not guilty pleas except for one man arrested in Montana. He made his first court appearance there but won't enter a plea until after he's transferred to Fargo.

In a related case, Minnesota court records show Bergland was charged July 21 in Hennepin County with second-degree drug possession. That case, referred to in federal court documents, is still pending.

Bergland's criminal history also shows a 2004 theft conviction in Roseau County, Minn., and three convictions between 2004 and 2008 for underage drinking in Minnesota.

During a May 8 detention hearing in Fargo, a federal prosecutor said Bergland has a history of alcohol and substance abuse, according to minutes from the hearing.

Bergland was released from custody on a promise to appear for future court dates. As a condition of his release, he can't travel outside of the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks area unless approved by a court officer.

Far-reaching operation

The indictment alleges Bergland and others conspired to distribute more than 5 kilos of cocaine and more than 100 grams of heroin, as well as marijuana, ecstasy and methylone, a euphoric stimulant.

The drugs allegedly were picked up in the Twin Cities area and elsewhere and sold to distributors and customers in cities including Grand Forks, Fargo, Moorhead, Thief River Falls, Alexandria, Minn., and Williston, N.D.

Money made by the operation was deposited and withdrawn from bank accounts in the two states. Thousands of dollars changed hands via the wire services Moneygram and Western Union, the indictment alleges.

Cities in which payments were sent or received included Dickinson, Fargo and Grand Forks in North Dakota, and Apple Valley, Brooklyn Park, Dilworth, Minneapolis, Moorhead, St. Louis Park, St. Paul and Warroad in Minnesota, according to court records.

Crystal won't comment

Bergland confirmed he has worked at the American Crystal Sugar plant in Drayton since February as the packaging operations lead. He said the charges haven't affected his job status.

American Crystal Sugar spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said he couldn't discuss the status of any employee "or comment on legal charges that may occur outside of the company."

As for the company's policy on background checks, he said, "I can't get into our hiring protocol and things of that nature."

About 1,300 union workers have been locked out by American Crystal Sugar since Aug. 1 in a contract dispute. The company has been hiring non-union workers to fill positions, and some union members have criticized the quality of replacement workers.

Forum Communications couldn't confirm whether Bergland's position was previously held by a union worker. A union leader declined to comment on the charges against Bergland without knowing all of the facts.

Union and company officials are set to meet June 8 for the first time since February to try to reach a contract agreement.

According to his webpage, Bergland previously owned a College Pro Painters franchise from January 2007 to December 2011. He confirmed the information on the page is correct.

The University of Minnesota business and marketing alum also worked as a financial rep for a Twin Cities-area firm from February to December 2010, the webpage states.

Bergland is being represented by the Federal Public Defender's Office.

The other defendants listed in the indictment are: Andrew Frank Przekwas, Rachel Renee Dahl, Peter Philip Basting, Brian Warren Briggs, Nicholas William Michael, Chad Thomas Whitney, Riley Kevin Wald, James Robert Nord, Jacob Brian Skadsem, Andrew Michael Luehring, Tony Joe Galle, Bryan Keith Cameron, Beau Ed Vasas, Vary Rattanasithy, Christopher Lee Webb, Clinton James Rooney, Tera Lynn Lawrence and Jamie Beth Johnston.

A jury trial is scheduled for July 10.

Bergland is also the grandson of former Secretary of Agriculture and U.S. Rep. Bob Bergland, DFL-Minnesota, who represented from 1971 to 1977 the same western Minnesota district as Rep. Collin Peterson does now.

The confirmation comes from a birth announcement in the Herald.