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Alleged drug ring member, ex-UND student pleads guilty in case involving PR teen

Peter Hoistad

FARGO - Hoping to avoid decades in prison for his role in an alleged Grand Forks drug ring, former University of North Dakota student Peter Hoistad pleaded guilty in federal court here Thursday.

The 22-year-old is the sixth person to agree to a plea deal so far.

Investigators say the ring manufactured synthetic drugs that led to the deaths of two teenagers, including Elijah Stai of Park Rapids and the hospitalization of several other people in Grand Forks in June.

Hoistad pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and actually distributing illegal drugs. He was indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs "resulting in serious bodily injury and death" that carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.

His main role in the drug ring was selling hallucinogens made by alleged ringleader Andrew Spofford, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said Thursday in court. The drugs were prepared on "sheets" of blotter paper and marketed as "acid."

One of the teenagers who died in June and two others with him had similar "acid sheets" made by Spofford, witnesses have said. The victims also ingested a powdered form of hallucinogen that came from Spofford, police said.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson set Hoistad's sentencing for Jan. 3.

Hoistad's mother, from St. Paul, attended the hearing.

Myers told the court that Hoistad earned about $7,000 after selling about 1,000 doses of the hallucinogen in the blotter-paper form, roughly 10 sheets. He has agreed to forfeit that amount to the government as part of his plea deal.

Hoistad was a UND student from January 2011 until June of this year.

When police searched his home on University Avenue, they found marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and other drugs, and $10,000 in cash, according to Myers.

Three other former UND students appeared with Hoistad in court on conspiracy charges last month. They remain under their initial not-guilty pleas, but may yet agree to a plea deal as Myers has made it clear Spofford is the prosecution's main target.

Spofford pleaded not guilty last month and remains in custody awaiting a Nov. 6 trial date.

The three students, through their attorneys, have asked their Nov. 6 trial date be pushed back two months to deal with a mountain of evidence provided by prosecutors: nearly 1,800 pages of discovery and hours of tapes.

As part of Hoistad's plea deal, Myers agreed to drop the charge that the drugs he distributed resulted in injury and death, reducing the maximum sentence from life to 20 years. Hoistad faces another 10 years because he was also convicted of felony drug dealing on UND's campus in February 2009 in state court, Myers said.

The prosecutor told Judge Erickson he is recommending a sentence lower than 30 years.

Erickson told Hoistad that as judge, he is not bound to certain terms of the plea deal, depending on his own calculation of how federal guidelines should apply in the case.