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Final defendant in vast synthetic drug case gets 20 years

FARGO — The last defendant in a synthetic drug conspiracy case was sentenced Thursday in federal district court in Fargo to 20 years and six months in prison in what federal district Judge Ralph Erickson said was “one of the saddest, if not the saddest, cases this court has seen in 20 years.”

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Charles William Carlton, 29, of Texas, pleaded guilty in March to distributing controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death.

The drug charges against Carlton and 14 others stemmed from the deaths of two Grand Forks-area teens who died from taking synthetic hallucinogens within days of one another in June 2012.

Carlton founded the Houston-based online company Motion Resources, which distributed synthetic drugs across the country for about a year, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers, who prosecuted the case.

The drugs were imported from overseas, including from Europe, Canada and China.

Myers underscored the scope of the drug conspiracy, which he said touched every state.

“They sold all over the U.S. to hundreds of people,” he said in court proceedings Thursday. “This defendant is the source of supply. He’s the one that put (the drugs) in the stream of commerce.”

Myers said the venture was a “profit-driven business” meant to “skirt the law,” and that Carlton had signed papers to change the name of the business after receiving news of the two teens’ deaths in an attempt to hide his tracks.

Alexander Reichert, Carlton’s defense attorney, said in court Thursday that one of Carlton’s conspirators had pushed him into continuing business after the teens’ deaths and that Carlton had tried to screen purchasers to keep the drugs out of the wrong hands.

“That is a red herring,” said Judge Erickson before sentencing Carlton. “This was not a business that got out of control. It was designed to skirt the law.”

Erickson said if the business had been legitimate, there would have been legitimate sales to pharmaceutical companies, legitimate advertising and legitimate mass marketing efforts.

Most of the evidence against Carlton has not been disclosed, as most of the court records are sealed.

Erickson also said the case was unique in that Carlton did not embody the typical drug dealer — the hopeless addict who supports his addiction by dealing.

Rather, Erickson said, Carlton was the other kind of drug dealer.

“They’re people who are entrepreneurial. There’s almost always very bright. They’re almost always people who can give back to their community,” he said. “Those are the people who are most morally culpable because it’s based in greed.”

“It’s a very Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of thing,” he said, adding that Carlton had described himself as a “connoisseur of hallucinogens.”

Erickson also underscored the seriousness of the case, saying, “People who sell drugs are the merchants of death.”

The gravity of the case was reflected in the sentence handed down, which was the longest out of any of the 15 involved in the conspiracy.