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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published August 07 2012

Grand Forks man appears on drug charges in Fargo

FARGO – Andrew Spofford, the Grand Forks man said by law enforcement officials to be the chief cook of synthetic drugs blamed in the death of two teenagers, appeared in U.S. court here Tuesday to face a federal drug charge for the first time.

The federal complaint contains little information, but does introduce the allegation that Spofford, 22, conspired “to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances,” in Richland County in southeast North Dakota as well as in Grand Forks County in the first six months of this year.

He was earlier charged with manufacturing and distributing drugs in state district court in Grand Forks, but those charges were dropped Monday because of the more serious federal charges. A federal drug conspiracy felony carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a minimum of a year in prison. The state charge had a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Spofford told the judge he has no money, no job, no assets and asked for a court-appointed attorney. Magistrate Judge Charles Miller, hearing the case via video from Bismarck, appointed Chris Lancaster to represent Spofford.

Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Spofford, said the investigation is ongoing so he can say little about it, including whether others are likely to be charged. Nor could he say anything about the Richland County connection.

Miller set Spofford’s detention, or bond, hearing and his preliminary hearing for either Monday or Tuesday next week in Fargo.

Spofford, who has been held under $300,000 bond in Grand Forks County jail since June 14, apparently will be held in Fargo, where he grew up and where his parents still live.

After the hearing, his father came to the court house to pick up some of his belongings, handed over by a court employee in a black plastic garbage bag.

In the court room Tuesday was Keith Bjerk of Grand Forks, the father of Christian Bjerk, one of the two teenagers who died of an apparent overdose.

He said he didn’t want to comment yet on the case, but said he had never met Spofford.

Christian Bjerk was 18 when he was found dead early on June 11 along a city street after ingesting a hallucinogen that investigators say originated with Spofford.

According to investigators, Spofford admitted making drugs by mixing chemicals ordered through the mail and selling it to an informant.

Some of those drugs were allegedly acquired by Adam Budge, 19, who sold it to Wesley Sweeney, 18, Manvel, N.D. Sweeney is now in jail for allegedly providing the drugs to Bjerk and another teen, who later went to the hospital.

Budge also allegedly provided drugs to Elijah Stai, 17, who died June 15 in the hospital. Investigators said Spofford told them he knew Budge and suspected Budge broke into his home and stole the drugs. Budge is in jail in Crookston facing murder charges. His defense attorney has said his case, too, may go federal.

Because of the felony nature of the charge, a grand jury still must meet to hear the probable cause argument before Spofford could be indicted.

Under U.S. drug laws, federal prosecutors have “original jurisdiction” in any felony drug case, whether or not the alleged crime involved crossing state lines.


Stephen J. Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald