FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday honored law enforcement officials who investigated and prosecuted the region’s first large-scale synthetic drug case following the overdose deaths of two Grand Forks-area teenagers.
The federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces recognized the investigation tabbed “Operation Stolen Youth” for what was called a creative response by local, state and federal authorities to an emerging public threat. It was one of five special awards given nationally by the group.
The synthetic drug case involved 15 defendants, all of whom were convicted. The investigation began after Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17, of Park Rapids, Minnesota, died within a week of each other in June 2012 after ingesting the hallucinogens. Three other young people were hospitalized.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers, the lead prosecutor, said the case involved “new and deadly” substances and investigators had no history from which to draw from. The indictment against the ringleader of the operation took 21 pages to describe the drugs.
“It was a very interesting and challenging investigation because it involved dozens of substances, many of which we had never seen before,” said Charlene Keller, a forensic scientist at the state crime laboratory.
The probe led law enforcement to Charles Carlton, a self-described connoisseur of hallucinogens who allegedly sold chemicals to customers in every state. Carlton, 29, of Katy, Texas, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay back $385,000 in drug proceeds.
Myers said Carlton’s operation was dismantled within 60 days of the first overdoes.
“Such a feat is unheard of in the investigation of large-scale drug-trafficking organizations,” Myers said.
The swift response “kept the public safe, dismantled the organization that was trafficking this poison, and delivered some measure of justice to the families of the young men who lost their lives as a result of taking synthetic drug,” U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said.
“All illegal drugs are dangerous and synthetic analogue substances are no different,” Purdon added. “You risk your life when you ingest them.”
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