By Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications
FARGO — Andrew Spofford, in a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty here Monday to making and distributing the hallucinogens that killed two teenagers in Grand Forks in June and sent a 15-year-old boy to the hospital in critical condition.
Spofford’s deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office states 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 is not bound by the terms of the plea agreement.
The four counts against Spofford each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum of 20 years, as well as a $1 million fine.
Erickson told Spofford he also could be sentenced to pay funeral and hospital bills for his victims.
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 one year in prison.
Spofford’s attorney, John Goff, declined to comment after the hearing.
Charges for 10
Spofford has been characterized in court as the center of a drug ring in which 10 people have been charged so far by Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Myers said Monday after the hearing.
Before Spofford’s plea Monday, six others had pleaded guilty in deals with Myers. Each faced a single count.
Allyson Desantos, 22, is scheduled to plead guilty today (Tuesday) here 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.
Myers singled out Rosen Monday in court as a key partner of Spofford.
Five other associates of Spofford pleaded guilty in August and September, striking deals with Myers in the case.
The fact Myers offered a deal to Spofford in which he agrees to cooperate with prosecutors seems to indicate they are interested in making a case against more than the 10 people already charged.
But Myers said he can’t comment, except that the investigation isn’t over.
More information about the drug ring was revealed Monday in court by Myers and admitted to by Spofford.
Myers told Judge Erickson in court that Spofford and Rosen, 23, formed a partnership in January 2011 to import chemicals over the Internet from Europe, India, China and a source in Houston to make the 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. Some was marketed as “acid” and another form was a type of ecstasy, Myers has said in court. Spofford made the drugs in his Grand Forks residence and tried to recruit others to learn to make them, as well as sell them.
Spofford admitted Monday that drugs he made and distributed were ingested 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 Monday’s hearing, and told them, “I love you,” as he was led from the courtroom. The Spoffords declined to comment to a reporter.
Bjerk’s parents, Deb and Keith Bjerk, have attended most of the hearings in the case and again were in attendance Monday.
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.
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.