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Patrick Springer, Published January 29 2009

Man gets 30 years for leading role in Red River Valley drug ring

FARGO – Michael Petzold was sentenced today to 30 years in prison for his part in plotting a drug-related murder and playing a leading role in a sprawling drug conspiracy in the Red River Valley.

Petzold, 27, who grew up in Wahpeton, N.D., was the last of the leading figures to be sentenced in what federal authorities call “Operation Speed Racer,” a drug ring that imported drugs from Mexico to the Red River Valley.

Petzold obtained the gun that was used to murder Lee Avila, an East Grand Forks, Minn., drug dealer who was killed in 2005 over a money dispute.

The sentencing, in U.S. District Court in Fargo, was the latest in more than 60 of 62 defendants who were indicted in connection with the organization.

Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said the ring brought more than 100 pounds of methamphetamines and more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana to the area.

Recently retired West Fargo police Detective Brad Berg was recognized Thursday by U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley for his key role in dismantling "Operation Speed Racer."

Berg spent 16,000 hours on the investigation, which began six years ago - all as a volunteer.

Berg, a retired lawyer, became a reserve law-enforcement officer in 2000, first for the Cass County Sheriff's Office, and mostly for the West Fargo Police Department. He went to the police academy and became a licensed peace officer, and a member of the DEA drug task force - all as a volunteer.

For more on the story, read Friday’s Forum.