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Manvel man pleads guilty in federal court in synthetic drug death; PR teen's death is related

Wesley Sweeney

FARGO -- Wesley Sweeney, Manvel, N.D., pleaded guilty Friday in federal court here to a drug conspiracy charge, admitting he gave illegal synthetic drugs to a Grand Forks man in June, causing his death.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $1 million fine; it also has a mandatory minimum penalty of 20 years in prison.

In a plea deal, Sweeney, 18 and still a senior in high school, admitted to conspiring to possess with intent to deliver and delivering synthetic psychedelic drugs -- described by prosecutors as 2C-I and 2C-C -- that led to serious injury and death.

The plea agreement could result in Sweeney receiving less than the mandatory minimum of 20 years, U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson told him and set his sentencing for Nov. 26 in Fargo.

On June 11, Sweeney gave two synthetic hallucinogens to Christian Bjerk, 18, who died within a few hours, and to "C.J.," a 15-year-old boy who spent several days in critical care in Altru Hospital after ingesting the drugs, said Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.

Sweeney also ingested the drugs the same night and was hospitalized overnight.

According to investigators' affidavits in the initial case in state district court, a few days after Bjerk's death, Sweeney told another man it wasn't his fault if Bjerk didn't know how much of the drugs to take.

David Dusek, Sweeney's attorney, declined to comment after the hearing.

Sweeney's family members were in the court room Friday, as were the parents of Bjerk.

Broad case

Sweeney is the third man charged in federal court in what U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon called "a bad batch" of synthetic drugs made by Andrew Spofford, 22, of Grand Forks, that killed Bjerk and Elijah Stai, 17, of Park Rapids, Minn., and sent at least five young people to the hospital.

It led to a wide-ranging, quickly-mounted investigation involving local, state and federal officials. Myers has said the conspiracy is larger and that more people will be charged.

Besides Sweeney, the investigation so far has led to the arrests of:

• Spofford, who appeared Aug. 8 in federal court here on a charge of drug conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of one year.

If he's indicted by a grand jury, as is expected, his charges could become more serious, as they would involve the death of Bjerk and Stai.

• Adam Budge, 19, faces Minnesota charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter in Stai's death in East Grand Forks. Myers said Friday that Budge stole from Spofford's house the drugs he gave to Stai, which led to Stai's death June 15.

Budge is expected to be charged in federal court soon. Court documents show he is scheduled to enter a plea next week in federal court in Fargo.

• Ron Norling III, 26, of Grand Forks, is also scheduled to enter a plea in federal court in Fargo.

He was arrested in May after authorities seized evidence they connected to him that they said indicated Spofford was making psychedelic drugs, according to court affidavits.

• William Joseph Fox, 24, Spofford's roommate, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy Monday in federal court in Grand Forks. He is accused of distributing Spofford's drugs. Like Sweeney, he reached a plea deal with prosecutors.