Earlier this year, the Grand Forks Attorney’s Office targeted three men for their roles in a fentanyl distribution conspiracy that led to a non-fatal overdose in March 2017. They had ordered counterfeit A-125 oxycodone pills from a darknet supplier and distributed them throughout the region. On October 30, all three defendants pleaded guilty in a U.S. District Court.
According to court documents, 20-year-old Cody Allen Stengl of East Grand Forks and 20-year-old Jan Cervenka of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, had partnered with one of their friends who “was good at computers.” That friend, 20-year-old John Taylor Garrison, knew how to get drugs from the darknet, Minnesota court documents revealed. All three pleaded guilty to drug distribution conspiracy and drug possession.
The trio ran their operation between October 2016 and April 2017. During that time, according to court documents, they had ordered and distributed 40 grams of fentanyl, MDMA, cocaine, alprazolam, psilocybin, LSD, marijuana and marijuana concentrate. Instead of selling fentanyl as fentanyl, they sold the drug disguised as blue oxycodone pills. The investigation led to the discovery that a darknet vendor had supplied the drugs and shipped them through the USPS and other shipping companies.
Two men, believed to have been low-level dealers for the trio, already pleaded guilty to drug distribution in connection with the group. The men, 20-year-olds Benjamin David Gottberg and Robert John-Benson Powell, received prison sentences of more than five years. Another 20-year-old, Tucker Christian Collings, caught charges in North Dakota and Minnesota. Police raided his Grand Forks apartment in March and found 160 fentanyl pills. They collected a total of 500 pills during the operation that netted Collings.
After police raided Collings, the Grand Forks Police Department wrote that “those particular pills were responsible for at least one, and possibly as many as three, overdoses in Grand Forks in the past week.” Collings admitted to distributing the drugs to several people in the Grand Forks area. He also revealed that he had participated in the drug distribution conspiracy with the four other suspects in the area. In fact, Collings helped police catch Stengl and the other leaders of the conspiracy.
East Grand Forks Police arrested 22-year-old Joel Ryan and 20-year-old Leah Sourdif in late March for possession of fentanyl pills. After questioning Ryan, the police knew he had bought the pills from Collings. The police then raided Collings and had him send a Snapchat message to Stengl that let Stengl know he had sold out and needed more pills.
Stengl then arranged a meet with Collings. The police conducted a traffic stop and arrested Stengl who refused to cooperate with the investigation. Police executed a search warrant at Stengl’s home. They seized 200 blue “oxycodone” pills, other misbranded prescription pills, and five pounds of marijuana.
Officers then went back to a house where Stengl had visited prior to his arrest and found Gottberg and Powell. With evidence gathered at the houses, the investigators worked their way up the ladder until all members of the fentanyl trafficking group made up of almost exclusively 20-year-olds.
Stengl, Cervenka, and Garrison will appear in court for sentencing in late January.