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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published August 22 2012

Judge throws out steroid charges against ex-UND football player

GRAND FORKS - State District Judge Joel Medd threw out the last felony charges this week in a botched investigation last year on campus into suspected steroid possession by three former University of North Dakota football players.

Charges of possessing anabolic steroids and Adderall, an amphetamine, were dismissed Monday by Medd against Justin Belotti, 23, who finished his senior year playing safety for UND last fall.

On Dec. 15, members of the Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force executed a search warrant at a house at 531 Cambridge Street on campus where Belotti and six others lived.

Police obtained the warrant based on a tip from a “confidential informant” about his alleged drug supplier, Kenneth Watkins, who lived in the house, as well as from drug-related items collected from the trash outside the house.

Watkins, now 22, also was a former footballer, sold him pot each week, said the informant, who also said he knew players had steroids in the house.

After Watkins’ bedroom was searched, police continued through the house, including the bedrooms of Belotti as well as of Mitchell Goertz — also a former football player — and Richard McConn, 24, who wasn’t on the team.

Steroids, Adderall

Police said they found numerous bottles of anabolic steroids in McConn’s room and smaller amounts in Belotti’s and in Goertz’s rooms. In Watkins’ room they found pot and pot paraphernalia, which they also found in a common living space in the house, said police, according to court documents. Police and state BCI agents also damaged bedroom doors in the house during the search, according to court documents.

The three former football players faced Class C felony charges related to possessing steroids and Adderall, an amphetamine used to treat attention deficit disorder but also reportedly used by college students and athletes as a stimulant to help them focus attention.

A Class C felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Watkins pleaded guilty in March to misdemeanor pot charges and served 10 days in jail.

But Goertz’s attorney, Blake Hankey, filed a motion to throw out the evidence found in his client’s room, saying the search warrant didn’t give police the right to expand their search beyond Watkins’ room.

State and federal laws give roommates in multiple-person dwellings some expectations of constitutional privacy and the search warrant didn’t correctly identify what investigators ended up searching for, Hankey argued

Medd agreed with him earlier this summer in a ruling.

Steroids test

Belotti’s attorney, Ted Sandberg, filed a similar motion this summer. He said not only was the search warrant “stale,” in that it was nine days since a judge signed it before police executed it, but it failed to properly describe the residence, where seven people lived.

Watkins was the sole focus of the warrant, while Belotti lived in a locked, separate basement apartment and kept Watkins from entering his room, Sandberg said. Besides, the suspected steroids seized in Belotti’s room did not test positive as such controlled substances, Sandberg said.

“He protested his innocence from the beginning and offered to give blood tests to show he never used steroids,” Sandberg said Tuesday.

Medd ruled that if investigators thought they would find evidence of criminal behavior elsewhere inside the house, they could have gotten the warrant expanded. But the way it was written, Belotti, Goertz and McConn’s rights against unlawful searches was violated, according to Medd’s rulings.

By this time, prosecutor Tom Falck knew what Judge Medd thought of the search, so he didn’t bother to file a countering motion to Belotti’s.

Reading the same tea leaves, McConn’s attorney didn’t bother to file a written motion to suppress the evidence against McConn.

Instead, Falck simply filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Belotti, as he did with charges against McConn and Goertz, citing insufficient evidence.

On Aug. 9, Medd ordered the charges against Goertz and McConn dismissed; on Monday he did the same in Belotti’s case.

Belotti, 23, is a graduate assistant coach at University of Mary in Bismarck.