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Narcotics Task Force credited for breaking up synthetic drug ring

Nearly two years after a teenager was found dead on a sidewalk in Grand Forks and “Operation Stolen Youth” began, Detective Joel Lloyd was presented an award for public service at a County Commission meeting Tuesday for his role in taking down a synthetic drug ring with international ties.

Chris Myers, the lead prosecutor of the case, said Lloyd played a crucial role in analyzing emails and other electronic data that helped prosecute 15 people who were involved in making and distributing synthetic drugs that killed two people and hospitalized three more in the Red River Valley in 2012.

The Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force tracked the distribution of the synthetic drugs to Texas, where the supplier was selling chemicals on the Internet.

“There were thousands and thousands of documents,” Meyers said. “This was set up as a legitimate business.”

Due to the confidential and potentially dangerous nature of his work on the narcotics task force, Lloyd declined to speak with the media but said “it’s nice to be recognized” and thanked the other law enforcement agencies who helped with the operation.

Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost said it felt good to get closure for the first synthetic drug cases in the area that caused serious problems and the deaths of Christian Bjerk, 18, and Elijah Stai, 17.

“The task force came together and Joel was a key part of it,” he said. “They were able to close this thing down very quickly.”

In fact, it only took the task force two months to connect the dots to an overseas supplier of the chemicals that were being used to make the drugs.

“That is an amazing feat when you’re able to dismantle an organization that quickly,” Myers said.

Both County State’s Attorney Peter Welte and United States Attorney Tim Purdon stressed that the money the county puts into the task force is well-spent.

“Because this team had been built, we were able to deliver for their families some measure of justice,” Purdon said.

Sentences in the case range from 25 years in prison to probation, and two more will be sentenced later this summer.


Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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