FARGO-An Oregon man accused of distributing fentanyl linked to two overdose deaths in Grand Forks pleaded guilty Monday in Fargo federal court.
Brandon Corde Hubbard, 41, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death, distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death and money laundering.
Hubbard entered the plea as part of an agreement, filed Dec. 21, in which he admitted his role in selling the drug that led to the overdose deaths of 18-year-old Bailey Henke and 19-year-old Evan Poitra in Grand Forks. Both died after taking fentanyl citrate, a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Hubbard faces two life sentences on the first two counts, but through the plea agreement, prosecutors would recommend a lesser sentence. However, Hubbard's first two counts also carry a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
During Monday's court hearing, Judge Ralph Erickson explained Hubbard must be sentenced to at least 20 years in prison unless the prosecution asks the judge for a lesser sentence.
Hubbard accepted responsibility for two deaths and four overdoses resulting in serious bodily injury in North Dakota and Oregon through his plea.
U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said he would seek restitution for all victims at the time of sentencing, but he wasn't sure Monday how much that would be. The restitution could cover expenses such as medical and funeral bills, Judge Erickson explained.
Hubbard was "an integral part" in a large scale drug distribution conspiracy that spanned multiple countries and stretched across the U.S. He imported $1.5 million worth of fentanyl citrate from China and Canada and then distributed them by mail throughout the U.S., according to court papers.
The Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force began investigating after the overdose death of Henke on Jan. 3, 2015. "Through great police work and a little bit of luck," the investigation revealed that Hubbard used the Dark Web to anonymously distribute fentanyl, among other drugs, from his home in Portland, Ore., Myers said.
The Dark Web refers to public websites which servers' IP addresses are hidden, making it difficult to identify who is operating them.
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program, a national award, honored 20 individuals in February for their work in Operation Denial with the outstanding cooperative effort award, including members of the Grand Forks County narcotics task force, Grand Forks Police Department, State's Attorney David Jones, Grand Forks Sheriff's Office and UND Police Department.
Nine defendants have been charged in North Dakota and three defendants charged in Oregon as part of Operation Denial.
One of the recipients of drugs from Hubbard was Ryan Jon Jensen, 20, of Grand Forks, who was sentenced Feb. 1 to 20 years in prison for his role in the fentanyl overdose deaths.
Four others from Grand Forks have been sentenced to federal prison as a result of Operation Denial: Joshua Tyler Fulp, 20, received 12 years; Kain Daniel Schwandt, 19, 3½ years; David Todd Noye Jr., 18, 3¼ years; and Jameson Robert Sele, 20, three years.