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Forum staff reports, Published February 06 2009

Accused leader of drug ring pleads not guilty

The top figure in a drug ring accused of using identity theft to disguise laundered drug money pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that could bring life imprisonment if he is convicted.

Miguel Angel Chavez, 33, of Hermiston, Ore., made his not guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Fargo.

Magistrate Judge Karen Klein ordered Chavez held pending his trial, set for March 23. He is one of 24 defendants charged in what federal authorities call “Operation Paint By Numbers,” which is accused of smuggling drugs from California and Washington state to North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.