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Man gets life sentence for drug conspiracy

FARGO -- Miguel Angel Chavez said he ruined his life by getting involved in an international drug conspiracy that brought hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

"I broke the lives of a lot of people," the 33-year-old father of three from Washington state said Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Fargo. "Unfortunately, nothing I can do will undo those things."

A federal judge Tuesday sentenced Chavez to spend the rest of his life in prison.

A jury convicted Chavez in May on charges including distributing illegal drugs, money laundering, identity theft and continuing criminal enterprise.

Chavez was the alleged leader among 23 others who were prosecuted as part of "Operation Paint by Numbers," the largest drug conspiracy case prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, near Belcourt, N.D.

Chavez orchestrated the distribution of more than 200 pounds of methamphetamine to the reservation and the exchange of more than $2 million through the sale of the drugs.

Chavez refused to testify on his own behalf at the sentencing, saying he "didn't want to put his family through more danger than he already had."

Chavez said prior to his sentencing that he regretted his actions and the harm he did.

"I want to change my life, even if I spend the rest of my life in jail," Chavez said, pleading with Erickson for the lesser sentence of 25 years requested by Bredahl. "I truly don't want to die in jail."

Erickson said Chavez's show of remorse was "genuine and real," but called the impact of Chavez's actions a "terrible tragedy" for the reservation's residents.

Bredahl said he intends to file an appeal, which he must do within 10 days.

Kristen Daum is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.