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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published June 21 2012

Police: Grand Forks man tied to drug deaths

GRAND FORKS – A Grand Forks man arrested last week on drug charges appears to the focus of the multi-pronged investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement into a handful of drug overdoses requiring hospitalization and the death of two teen-aged males.

Andrew Spofford, 22, was arrested June 14 after a search of the rented home he shared with William Fox, 24, at 2200 Fourth Ave. N.

Although the charges don’t yet reflect it, investigators’ sworn statements that are filling Grand Forks prosecutors’ case against Spofford clearly show they think he’s a main source of the drugs thought to have last week killed Christian Bjerk, 18, in Grand Forks and Elijah Stai, 17, in East Grand Forks, Minn.

No forensic evidence is back from an autopsy yet to prove exactly what killed Bjerk, prosecutors say. But his death came after some hours of taking drugs with friends, one of whom, a 15-year-old, was hospitalized with hallucinatory behavior, investigators say.

East Grand Forks police and Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth say Adam Budge is guilty of third-degree murder for providing a hallucinogenic drug to Stai only hours before he went into a coma June 13. Stai died June 15 in Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

Budge, who is an acquaintance of Spofford, is scheduled to appear today on the charges in state district court in Crookston, where he remains in jail.

Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said Thursday that law enforcement is still investigating the deaths and the overdoses, a rare acknowledgement by his office of an ongoing investigation. The public safety factor is so critical, he said, because of what he has called “a bad batch” of psychedelic or hallucinogenic synthetic drugs on the streets of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks in recent weeks.

No charges have been made in the federal investigation yet, he said.

But such federal felonies require a grand jury indictment, so typically come less rapidly than state and local felony charges can be filed.

Spofford does not face a murder charge, as Budge does. But it’s clear investigators think Spofford was above Budge in what appears to be a single drug dealing circle, providing the drugs and at one point offering Budge a job making the drugs.

In fact, law enforcement officials early on in the investigation of Bjerk’s June 11 death figured that whoever provided him with the drugs he took that night might face a murder charge.

According to court documents, investigators told a judge June 11 that a search warrant of the north Grand Forks apartment where Bjerk and his friends did drugs that day, and of his parents’ black SUV, which he was driving, likely would turn up evidence of not just drugs, but murder.

Spofford appeared June 15 in state district court in Grand Forks, charged with possession – for the purpose of delivering MDMA, known as ecstasy, a party drug that has been around for years.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Ecstasy is a “synthetic, psychoactive drug that is chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. MDMA produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria, emotional warmth, and distortions in time, perception, and tactile experiences.”

Spofford told investigators he had sold an ounce of ecstasy to someone named “Steve” for $1,200, according to court documents. The state charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

But a second, lesser felony count reveals how much investigators think he’s involved in the two deaths and overdoses involving other drugs.

Spofford also is charged in state court in Grand Forks with reckless endangerment involving a different drug, a synthetic psychedelic drug that investigators tie to the two deaths. This is a Class C felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

According to the North Dakota charge, on or about June 10, Spofford acquired and distributed “chemicals known as DOC or FM, either directly or indirectly to at least five individuals; including at least two juvenile victims, that have been hospitalized for overdose symptoms associated with these two chemicals.”

Making ‘acid’

Investigators said Spofford admitted making and selling DOC or FM to several in the Grand Forks area. He said he had sold a “sheet” of the drug for $500, which included 60 to 100 “hits.”

He ordered the drug from Europe and cooked it in his residence and sold it to pay off college loans and to be “able to eat,” according to investigators. Spofford told investigators he is “a hobby chemist.”

If the two deaths last week are linked to drugs Spofford sold, he could face more serious charges, law enforcement sources say, although not for attribution.

DOC is a synthetic psychedelic, in the amphetamine class, that often is made and ingested in powder form in capsules, or cooked in or on blotter paper, according to online sources.

It’s sometimes referred to as “LSD” or “acid” by dealers, which can be dangerous because it’s much less safe than LSD, experts say, especially for people with hypertension, because it can cause sharp increases in blood pressure.

Spofford and Budge knew each other, had smoked dope together, and Spofford had tried to recruit Budge to cook the acid, promising him $4,000 per month, according to Grand Forks police investigator Steve Gilpin.

About three weeks ago, Spofford cooked up a large amount of the DOC, and packaged it for later dealing, then went to the West Coast to attend music festivals, he told investigators. When he returned last week, the package was missing and he told them he figured Budge had broken into his home and taken it.

That would fit the timeline of the Minnesota case against Budge, which alleges he provided a powdered hallucinogen June 12 to Stai in East Grand Forks.

Budge told investigators he obtained the drug in Grand Forks, according to the complaint in Minnesota court in Crookston.

Flight risk?

Purdon and Grand Forks County State’s Attorney Peter Welte say there’s still much investigation to do. So far, there has been no charge against Spofford that formally and clearly alleges he caused the deaths of Bjerk or Stai.

But Welte said Thursday he had asked a judge last week to hold Spofford without bail because his European and West Coast connections indicate he is a not unsophisticated drug maker and dealer. Plus, federal and state law enforcement officials are very interested in him, too, Welte said.

Spofford’s court appointed attorney, Ted Sandberg, said Thursday he had just gotten the case, but planned to quickly seek a bond hearing for his client because his first scheduled court appearance isn’t until his preliminary hearing Aug. 6.

Sandberg said he had spoken with Spofford’s family members in Fargo.

Police seek help

Police say it’s difficult for law enforcement to stay ahead of the drug makers and dealers.

“It’s a cat and mouse game,” Grand Forks Police Sgt. Travis Jacobson said Thursday. “As soon as we get on top of it, they find a new (way to make it.)”

Jacobson said synthetic drugs can be easily made and mixed, even by young teens.

They have become popular because they are undetectable and allow users to bypass any tests that could cost them their jobs, he said.

Sgt. Jacobson said users have found many ways to ingest the drugs that come in many forms.

“It can be anything,” he said. “Anyone using is becoming a genius in masking what they are using. Imaginations run wild in how they are doing it.”

After ingesting such drugs, users go on trips that can last 12 to 14 hours, he said, but the effects can vary from person to person. He compares it to alcohol use, in that “everybody has their own limit.”

Jacobson said the new synthetic drugs appear to cause more unusual behavior than more well-known illegal narcotics, such as marijuana. Users often display bizarre symptoms, such as violent yelling, screaming and swearing, hitting one’s head, hitting oneself, discoloration of the skin and hallucinating, he said.

Law enforcement is working fast to get information out as quickly as possible to keep anyone else from getting hurt from the new drugs, he said.

Police are asking parents and kids to alert the authorities if they think anyone is experiencing these issues. Anonymous tips can be sent through Crime Stoppers and educational sessions can be planned through the police department’s Community Resource Bureau.

Anyone with information, or seeking information, can call the Grand Forks Police Department at (701) 787-8000.


Herald staff writer TJ Jerke contributed to this story

Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald


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