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Synthetic drug ring kingpin to plead guilty

FARGO — Charles Carlton, described by a federal prosecutor as the Houston-based kingpin in an international synthetic drug operation that killed two teens in Grand Forks in 2012, said Monday he’s willing to plead guilty instead of go to trial.

Carlton, 29, had been slated to be tried next month in federal court in Fargo on drug conspiracy charges that could have put him in prison for life if he was convicted.

At least 14 others have been charged in connection with the case.

On Monday, Carlton’s attorney, Alex Reichert of Grand Forks, filed notice in federal court asking that Carlton be scheduled for a hearing in late February or early March to plead guilty.

That would appear to wrap up the far-flung federal prosecution of 15 people in what Chris Myers, assistant U.S. attorney in Fargo, said was a conspiracy in which Carlton bought chemicals and other materials from Asia and Europe and sold them to people in several states, including Andrew Spofford in Grand Forks.

Calling himself a “hobby chemist,” Spofford pleaded guilty in 2012 to making hallucinogenic drugs from the materials and selling them to people in Grand Forks over several months.

Wesley Sweeney, Manvel, and Adam Budge, East Grand Forks, Minn., pleaded guilty in late 2012 to obtaining the drugs from Spofford and making them available to Christian Bjerk, 18, Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17, Park Rapids, Minn., in June 2012.

Bjerk and Stai died quickly from overdoses of the dangerous synthetic drugs, Myers has said in court. Other teens, including a 15-year-old boy and Sweeney himself, got ill from the drugs, Myers said.

It appears now all 15 people charged so far by Myers have pled guilty or indicated they will plead guilty.

At least eight of them have received sentences ranging from three years’ probation for the only woman charged, Allyson Desantos — who like several of the defendants is a former University of North Dakota student — to 12.5 years in prison for Sweeney.

Myers was preparing for an unrelated trial Monday and not available for comment. But he routinely has said the investigation has remained open.

Several of the 15 have not been sentenced yet, including Spofford and Budge, whose testimony was expected to be key in Carlton’s trial.

Myers said previously in court that Carlton made at least $385,000 from dealing the illegal drugs.