BISMARCK, N.D. — An investigation into the trafficking of methamphetamine and heroin from California to the oil-producing region of North Dakota and Montana has led to charges against 29 people, state and federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Authorities said 22 people from North Dakota and seven from California have been indicted on drug charges. A federal grand jury indictment alleges the defendants traveled between North Dakota and Bakersfield, California, to obtain and distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine and a “detectable” amount of heroin in Minot and other parts of the state. The indictment alleges firearms were used by the defendants to protect the drug trafficking activity.
Arrest warrants were issued last week. About a third of the defendants had been arrested by Wednesday morning “and the rest have been contacted to arrange for their voluntary surrender,” said Chris Myers, the acting U.S. attorney for North Dakota.
All defendants face at least 10 years in federal prison on the felony charges that include possession of meth and heroin with intent to distribute, money laundering conspiracy, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The so-called “Operation Western Edge” was the first major drug bust by the Bakken Organized Crime Strike Force, a joint state and federal crime-fighting group formed two months ago to better target the criminal networks that authorities have blamed for much of the increase in human trafficking, drug dealing and violent offenses in the oil-producing regions of western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
The strike force was formed in response to growing pleas from residents in the two states for more help in dealing with crime in the region that’s seen an influx of tens of thousands of oilfield workers in recent years.
The investigation into the drug operation began in 2013, and formal formation of the new strike force in June helped “solidify the investigation and bring it to that next level,” Meyers said.
Officials said strike force consists of 50 law enforcement agents and four prosecutors who are working in a collaborative effort to attack organized crime. The group has agents and prosecutors in Bismarck, Dickinson, Minot and Williston.
Myers and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the arrests send a strong message to both citizens and criminals.
“These are the kinds of results we can expect to see,” Stenehjem said.
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