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Published December 07 2010

Reduced sentence comes at price

A federal judge described 14½ years in prison as “a gift” to a Bismarck man who was involved in a drug-trafficking operation that funneled large quantities of methamphetamines to North Dakota, including the Fargo-Moorhead area.

But for 29-year-old Levi Foerderer, that gift also comes with sacrifice.

His safety and the safety of his loved ones are in jeopardy because he cooperated with federal investigators, his attorney, Jeff Bredahl, said during a sentencing hearing Monday.

Foerderer previously testified against his co-conspirators, providing what authorities called “crucial” testimony that aided prosecutors and resulted in a life sentence for at least one defendant in the large-scale drug-trafficking operation.

But since then, Foerderer and his family have been the targets of threats, Bredahl said.

As a result of the testimony he provided, Foerderer was beaten badly by another inmate in September 2009 while at the Stutsman County Jail in Jamestown, N.D.

Justin Ray Peterson, of Felton, Minn., was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for retaliating against Foerderer.

For incidents like that, Foerderer has had to move among different facilities, including the Cass County Jail, because other inmates retaliated against him for being “a snitch,” Bredahl said.

Michael Nakvinda, who is standing trial in Cass County for the killing of Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso, is among those who allegedly threatened Foerderer, Bredahl said.

In a joint recommendation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers and Bredahl proposed a 14½-year sentence for Foerderer on the two drug charges he pleaded guilty to last year, which involved conspiracy to possess and distribute meth.

Foerderer faced up to two consecutive life sentences, although guidelines suggested he deserved a term of between about 22 to 27 years in prison.

District Judge Ralph R. Erickson ultimately agreed to the 14½-year sentence, saying “unique circumstances” warranted a reduced sentence.

“The defendant’s cooperation has been unusual, been significant and been at great risk to himself,” Erickson said.

Erickson recommended the U.S. Bureau of Prisons allow Foerderer serve his sentence at one of four minimum-security prisons in the region.

Bredahl also said Foerderer intends to work with the U.S. Marshals Service, so Foerderer might serve his term under a different identity.

Fearing for Foerderer’s safety, Bredahl and members of Foerderer’s family pleaded with Erickson to release Foerderer to the custody of his father until he had to report to prison.

“We have a great concern for him,” said his father, Barney Foerderer. “He’s deeply loved by his family, and our intention is to do all we can for him. … Give us a little time with him before he’s incarcerated.”

Erickson denied the request, in part because Foerderer committed the second of the two drug offenses while awaiting pretrial hearings on the first offense.

In a tearful statement, Foerderer apologized to the community and his family for his crimes.

Erickson ordered Foerderer to receive drug abuse and mental health treatment to deal with his drug addiction issues and the underlying post-traumatic stress stemming from the childhood abuse.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541