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Patrick Springer, Published January 30 2009

Petzold gets 30 years for role in drug ring

Michael Petzold refused several times to carry out his orders. But finally he helped carry out the murder of a wayward drug dealer who owed his bosses money.

Petzold, a 27-year-old who grew up in Wahpeton, N.D., was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in prison for his leading role in a drug conspiracy that imported hundreds of pounds of drugs from Mexico to the Red River Valley.

He was the last of the central figures to be sentenced in what federal authorities call “Operation Speed Racer,” which involved 66 defendants and had ties to a major Mexican drug cartel.

Among other preparations, 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.

“Michael Petzold is one of the people that was in the middle of planning this thing,” U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said before imposing the sentence. “He took no opportunity to stop this homicide. None.”

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.

Petzold, who said his judgment was clouded by his addiction to drugs, served as a regional manager for ringleader Jorge “Sneaky” Arandas, who had connections to a Mexican cartel.

“He handled basically the Midwest for Arandas’ organization,” Myers said. “His role is much more than just an errand boy. In the homicide, he played a central role.”

Petzold’s lawyer had pleaded for a sentence of 18 years, but Erickson adopted the government’s recommendation of 30 years.

After the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley recognized Brad Berg, a recently retired detective from the West Fargo Police Department, who played a key role in the task force that dismantled the Arandas ring.

Berg, a retired lawyer, spent thousands of hours as a volunteer officer, first with the Cass County sheriff’s office and later the West Fargo department.

“It is absolutely extraordinary,” Wrigley said of Berg’s dedication to major drug-trafficking investigations in the area.

“It was kind of my way of giving something back to the community,” Berg said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522