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Man connected to Grand Forks drug ring makes deal, pleads guilty

FARGO -- A man connected to a Grand Forks drug ring pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to distribute synthetic drugs blamed for the deaths of two teens, a federal charge that carried a mandatory life sentence if he were convicted.

In a deal with prosecutors, Casey Stevens Rosen, 23, will get a reduced sentence but details won't be known until his formal sentencing April 9, said Chris Myers, the assistant U.S. attorney who has charged 15 people in the case.

Rosen, who grew up in the Twin Cities, told U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson he attended UND for four years. He's the 11th person to plead guilty in the case.

He admitted to Myers' description of his crime: that beginning in January 2011 he acted first as "the money man," for Andrew Spofford, 22, an admitted "hobby chemist," as they launched a drug conspiracy that involved imported chemicals and synthetic drugs they cooked up in their Grand Forks apartment.

Spofford already has admitted making synthetic hallucinogens blamed for the deaths of Christian Bjerk, 18, June 11 in Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17, June 15 in Altru Hospital, two days after he went into a coma after ingesting the drug in East Grand Forks.

Myers said Spofford first used the Internet to order chemicals and drugs, but that Rosen, who "off and on" was Spofford's roommate, would swap roles with him in the drug conspiracy.

Bjerk's parents, Keith and Deb Bjerk, of Grand Forks, attended today's hearing and met with Myers after it.

Rosen has been in the Tri-County jail in Crookston since shortly after his arrest in September, serving a separate Minnesota drug charge. His federal sentence, once it's imposed in April, will be served after his state sentence is complete, Myers said.

Four others have been sentenced in the federal case to prison terms ranging from 27 months to 12.5 years. Based on what Myers said at their sentencing hearings about their roles in the case and their previous crimes, if any, it appears Rosen will be sentenced to more than 12.5 years.

Deal cut

Myers described Rosen as a key partner to Spofford, whom he earlier described as the leader and manager of the conspiracy.

Because Rosen had prior drug felony convictions, he faced a mandatory minimum of life in prison for the charge of drug conspiracy leading to serious bodily injury and death.

Judge Erickson told him the only way to get less time was to cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for cooperating with the investigation.

Last month, Myers announced charges for four additional men, including two in Houston and one in Mississippi as well as one formerly of Grand Forks, in the conspiracy. He said Monday that Rosen and Spofford ordered drugs through a Houston-based Internet company owned by Charles Carlton and distributed the drugs in Minnesota and North Dakota. He said earlier the drugs came from several countries in Europe and Asia.

He said Monday Rosen and Spofford also traveled to Colorado to buy cocaine, brought it back to Grand Forks and sold it.

They made hallucinogens, one kind marketed as acid, on "thousands" of blotter sheets and another powdered form known as "mushrooms," that was mixed into "hundreds" of chocolates distributed to many people, including teen-agers.

Myers told Judge Erickson he also recommended that Rosen pay back $100,000 in drug profits, saying Rosen had $5,000 left being held by his parents and the rest would be a judgment against him.

Rosen hired Minneapolis attorney Robert Pauley, who declined comment after the hearing except to say it was a "sad case."

Byron Landry, Kiln, Miss., is scheduled to appear on drug conspiracy charges in the case next week in federal court in Fargo.