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Case goes federal against Grand Forks man said to be maker of drugs that killed PR teen

Andrew Michael Spofford

The case against Andrew Spofford, the Grand Forks man investigators say is the maker of synthetic drugs blamed for killing two young men and sending a handful of others to the hospital, became a federal one Monday.

Tom Falck, the assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County, said he learned over the noon hour Monday that Spofford would be taken into federal custody and charged.

Ted Sandberg, Spofford's defense attorney, said he was told federal officials in Fargo filed an indictment against Spofford at 1 p.m., Monday.

Chris Myers, an assistant U.S. attorney in Fargo handling the case, said Monday he could not comment on the case because certain things had not yet been made public within the federal court.

In June, Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said his office had launched an investigation into the two drug-related deaths in Grand Forks and the several over-doses. He said they seemed linked to "a bad batch," of synthetic drugs made by someone, apparently in Grand Forks. Local prosecutors in Grand Forks and Crookston bringing state charges, as well as defense attorneys, have said since mid-June that federal indictments were more than likely in the case. In such circumstances, the state district charges typically are dropped once federal charges are filed.

Court appearance

Spofford, 22, has been in the Grand Forks County jail since his arrest June 14 after a search of his home. He appeared in orange attire, shackled, for a 2 p.m. preliminary hearing Monday on the state charges. But it was over in a few moments as Falck quickly moved to dismiss the felonies against Spofford in Grand Forks state court, citing the federal indictment.

Waiting for the hearing to start, Spofford told Sandberg that federal officials had visited him Monday in jail t

o discuss the changes in his case.

After the hearing, Sandberg said he may be able to continue defending Spofford, but that it would be up to federal officials. It wasn't clear Monday if Spofford will be transferred to the Cass County jail in Fargo or remain here for his initial detention -- or bond -- hearing, in federal court, Sandberg said.

Spofford, who grew up in Fargo and graduated from Shanley High School there, has attended UND, Sandberg said. At an earlier hearing, Sandberg said Spofford would plead not guilty to the state charges.

His $300,000 bond in his state case will be dropped, along with the state charges, Sandberg said Monday.

Spofford remains in jail, awaiting a federal hearing.

"He's taking this very seriously, just as he did the state charges," Sandberg said after Monday's brief court hearing.

Bad batch

Spofford had been charged with making and selling synthetic ecstasy to a man identified as "Steve," by investigators; that's a Class A felony with a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. He also was charged with reckless endangerment in an allegation he made and sold a synthetic hallucinogen distributed to at least five people, including two juveniles, leading to their hospitalization -- a class B felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Spofford also was charged with two misdemeanor drug-related charges.

Falck said the federal charges involved similar charges of conspiracy to make and deal such drugs.

According to investigators' affidavits in the state court case, Spofford told them he was a "hobby chemist" who had made synthetic hallucinogens, ordering chemicals from Europe.

Others charged with drug felonies connected by investigators to the June 11 death of Christian Bjerk, 18, in Grand Forks, said the drugs taken by Bjerk and two people with him that night came from Spofford. One of the two, Wesley Sweeney, 18, reportedly bought the drugs from Adam Budge, 18, in East Grand Forks, witnesses told investigators. Budge told investigators he bought the drugs from Spofford. Sweeney remains in jail in Grand Forks on charges of reckless endangerment connected with Bjerk's death and the juvenile's hospitalization.

Budge remains in jail Crookston, facing murder charges in Minnesota district court in the June 15 death of Elijah Stai, 17. Budge told investigators, according to court documents, that on June 13 he mixed up a white powder he had bought from Spofford with melted chocolate and gave it to Stai, who went into a coma soon after, dying two days later.

Budge's attorney, DeWayne Johnston, told a Minnesota judge in June that federal authorities planned to indict Budge in the incident.