'Meth bus' that made trips to Arizona set for auction
Jerry Bergeron made frequent vacation trips to Arizona in his $270,000 Fleetwood motor home, often with a motorcycle trailer in tow. But all was not what it seemed on those drives to and from the sunny Southwest, treks Bergeron and his associates...
Jerry Bergeron made frequent vacation trips to Arizona in his $270,000 Fleetwood motor home, often with a motorcycle trailer in tow.
But all was not what it seemed on those drives to and from the sunny Southwest, treks Bergeron and his associates also made by private and commercial air.
Bergeron and his son, Trent, were members of a drug conspiracy ring that authorities say was responsible for smuggling more than 30 pounds of methamphetamines to the Fargo-Moorhead area, shipments worth at least $500,000.
Now Bergeron, who once owned a West Fargo computer service business, is headed to prison, where he will spend four years, and his prized motor home will be auctioned off.
His co-defendants already are serving sentences - except one, Mark Gary Christianson, whom authorities say died last summer in "mysterious circumstances" in a motel room in Nebraska.
The case, investigated by the Cass County Sheriff's Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration, took years to piece together.
Investigators got their first tips in 2000, but the trail grew cold, apparently after word leaked back that the ring was under investigation.
Three years later, the evidence trail began to warm up, said Sgt. Mitch Burris of the Cass County Sheriff's Office, one of the leading investigators in the case.
Officers applied pressure on meth customers, and they followed the evidence up the ring's organizational ladder, he said.
"The ladder led us to these five," Burris said, referring to Christianson, the Bergerons, Jess Albert Briske and Brad Levin Anderson, all originally from Fargo or West Fargo.
All five were indicted in a drug conspiracy case last year. Jerry Bergeron was the last to be sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Fargo.
The conspiracy began after Briske and Anderson left the metro area to live in the Phoenix area earlier this decade, Burris said. Briske, who was struggling with meth abuse, failed in a hoped-for clean start in the Sun Belt.
Anderson and Briske became the Arizona connection for the ring, whose members often used vacation travel as a ruse for smuggling meth.
"They took extensive steps to hide their conspiracy," Burris said. In some instances, friends who went along on travels were unwitting alibi companions on a drug run. The same was true of an instructor pilot who accompanied Christianson on flights.
The trips could be highly profitable. A pound of meth purchased wholesale in Phoenix for $9,000 could fetch $20,000 on the streets of Fargo-Moorhead, Burris said, adding, "So there was a lot of money to be made."
Except for Christianson, all of the members of the ring were themselves drug users. Gerald Bergeron, who lives in rural Horace, sometimes paid his son in drugs, Burris said.
Trent Bergeron, who received a slightly stiffer sentence than his father, 52 months, would tweak meth to stay awake on marathon drives to and from Phoenix, a roundtrip "turn and burn" he could complete in 50 hours.
"He turned his son into a mule," Burris said of the elder Bergeron, using the slang term for a low-level drug runner.
Drew Wrigley, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, commended the Cass County Sheriff's Office for its dogged investigation, which traced the meth to sources in the Phoenix area.
Jerry Bergeron's motor home bus will be auctioned off by U.S. marshals. Up to 80 percent of the proceeds will go to the Cass County Sheriff's Office, Wrigley said.
"It's poetic justice," the prosecutor said, noting purchases like the bus often are a way of laundering ill-gotten drug money.
Before his implication in the drug ring, Christianson, also known as Stork, was briefly in the news four years ago with his plans for an "airpark" residential development near Horace, with upscale houses surrounding an air strip.
The development won the approval of county planning commissioners but never materialized. Burris suspects that, too, was a ruse - an excuse for Christianson to fly to and from Phoenix on what really were drug runs.