FARGO, N.D. — Federal authorities said Wednesday they are investigating a drug pipeline that involves moving the powerful opioid fentanyl and other painkillers from the Detroit area to three Native American reservations in North Dakota.
The operation includes the sale of "tens of millions of dollars" of narcotics and thus far has targeted 22 defendants from Michigan and eight from North Dakota, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said in a news conference. The group began dealing oxycontin pills in the state about five years ago and switched to fentanyl during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Organizers used "violence, threats, firearms and other means" to recruit people, including many on the Spirit Lake, Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold reservations who joined to feed their own drug addictions, Wrigley said.
The indictments are currently sealed because of "the sheer number of defendants," Wrigley said. He added that three leaders of the ring are charged with running a continuing criminal enterprise.
This case is separate from one unsealed earlier this month involving 26 people moving oxycodone pills from Detroit to the three reservations. North Dakota is an attractive market for drug dealers because they can demand higher prices, Wrigley said.
Wrigley on Tuesday announced his resignation to make room for President Joe Biden to appoint a new top federal prosecutor.