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ND man accused of dealing synthetic drugs in overdose deaths

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A wide-ranging synthetic drug ring that led to the overdose deaths of two teens and sent other young people to the hospital played out in federal court Wednesday when the alleged ringleader was arraigned and two others pleaded guilty.

Andrew Spofford, the man accused of cooking up the hallucinogens, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to five counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death.

Spofford's trial is scheduled for Nov. 16. The 22-year-old Grand Forks man faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole and a minimum mandatory term of 20 years.

Spofford is one of several people who have been charged in the case that spans local, state and federal jurisdictions. One federal official said the overdoses were the result of a bad batch of drugs that were circulating in the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., area.

Police said Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17, of Park Rapids, Minn., died within a week of each other in June after ingesting the hallucinogens. A handful of other people required medical treatment.

The complaint describes Spofford as "a leader, organizer, manager, and supervisor" in the conspiracy. Authorities believe he manufactured the drugs by mixing chemicals ordered through the mail. He allegedly told police he was a "hobby chemist."

Area law enforcement have seized drugs in the form of multi-colored blotter paper and white powder. Stai is believed to have ingested the powder that was mixed with melted chocolate, cooled and eaten like candy, police said.

Two other men involved in the case appeared in federal court Wednesday. Adam Budge, 19, of East Grand Forks, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy resulting in death charge. Police said Budge, who is charged in Minnesota with third-degree murder and manslaughter, supplied the drugs that resulted in Stai's death.

Budge faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Ronald Norling III, 27, of Grand Forks, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a lesser conspiracy charge accusing him of distributing hallucinogens, cocaine and marijuana. He could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Wesley Sweeney, 18, of Manvel, pleaded guilty earlier to a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute drugs that resulted in death.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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