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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published October 29 2012

Grand Forks man pleads guilty to providing synthetic drugs that killed two teens

FARGO - Facing four federal charges carrying life-in-prison penalties, Andrew Spofford, in a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty here today to providing the man-made hallucinogens that killed two teenagers in Grand Forks in June and sent a third boy to the hospital in critical condition.

Spofford's deal with the U.S. attorney's office says he will spend at least 20 years in prison, said U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson, who scheduled Spofford's sentencing for Jan. 24. Erickson told Spofford, 22, that the court will not be bound by the terms of the plea agreement.

The four counts each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 20 years, as well as a $1 million fine.

Spofford also pleaded guilty to a fifth count, a misdemeanor alleging he introduced a "mis-branded" drug into the United States; its maximum penalty is 1 year in prison.

Spofford's attorney, John Goff, declined to comment after the hearing.

Spofford, characterized in court as by Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting him, as the center of a Grand Forks-based drug ring of 10 people charged so far, most of them former University of North Dakota students, had pleaded not guilty in September to the charges.

"The investigation is ongoing," Myers said today after the hearing.

On Tuesday, Allyson Desantos, 22, the only woman charged so far, is scheduled to plead guilty here in federal court in a deal with Myers. She faces one count of conspiring with Spofford and Casey Rosen, Steven Bucher and Peter Hoistad to distribute the synthetic drugs as well as cocaine and marijuana.

Hoistad pleaded guilty earlier this month. Rosen and Bucher entered initial pleas of not guilty in September to the charge but are expected to take plea deals, too.

All five are former UND students.

Five other associates of Spofford pleaded guilty last month in deals with Myers in the case.

The fact Myers struck a deal with Spofford seems to indicate prosecutors are interested in making a case against more than the 10 people already charged - eight of whom have pleaded guilty already. But Myers said he can't comment, except that the investigation isn't over.

More information about the drug ring were revealed today in court by Myers and admitted to by Spofford.

Myers told Judge Erickson in court that Spofford and Rosen, 23, formed a partnership beginning in January 2011 to import chemicals from Europe, India, China and sources in Houston to make the synthetic hallucinogens. They had the chemicals shipped to Grand Forks through the mail and by other means, Myers said.

Spofford told investigators at the time of his arrest that he was a "hobby chemist," who made hallucinogens.

Spofford admitted today that drugs he made and sold were ingested on June 11 by Christian Bjerk, 18, and "C.J.", a 15-year-old boy in a north Grand Forks apartment and two days later by Elijah Stai, 17, in East Grand Forks.

Bjerk and Stai died; C.J. was hospitalized in critical condition "for quite some time," Myers said.

Spofford, who grew up in Fargo, turned to his mother and father, who sat behind him during today's hearing, and told them, "I love you," as he was led from the courtroom. The Spoffords declined to comment.

Bjerk's parents, Deb and Keith Bjerk, have attended most of the hearings in the case and again were in attendance.

The Bjerks appeared last Wednesday on the Anderson Cooper television show on CNN. They said they can't say much about the show for seven days after its broadcast because of contractual obligations.

But it was a segment on young people posting videos of their drug experiences and the Bjerks were intent on telling their story of how such drugs can kill.