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Drug trafficking stings result in 24 arrests in northwestern N.D.

BISMARCK – Law enforcement operations targeting drug trafficking rings and other illegal activity in northwestern North Dakota netted two dozen arrests this week, officials announced Friday.

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Agents with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, together with federal and local authorities, carried out a two-day operation Wednesday and Thursday in the McKenzie County area as the result of a long-term undercover investigation, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a news release.

About 50 traffic stops were made during the two-day sting. Agents seized drugs, paraphernalia, firearms and cash. Fourteen people alleged to be living in the country illegally also were detained and turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Criminal charges are pending against several of those arrested, Stenehjem said.

The operation took place in conjunction with a federal search warrant served Wednesday at an address near New Town that resulted in four arrests and the seizure of methamphetamine and 19 firearms, U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon reported.

Three people were arrested and have been charged in Mountrail County District Court on meth- and marijuana-related charges, and the fourth person was arrested for allegedly assault his dating partner. Federal charges also are possible, Purdon said.

The federal warrant search was part of the third phase Operation Winter’s End, an ongoing joint investigation by several federal, state and local agencies, including the FBI, BCI, Northwest North Dakota Drug Task Force, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Three Affiliated Tribes Police Department.

The first phase of Operation Winter’s End led to the indictment of 22 people in March 2013 for allegedly dealing heroin and meth on and around the Fort Berthold Reservation. An additional 20-plus defendants were charged in federal court as part of the second phase.

Purdon said the operation “has shown us that organized drug trafficking can no longer be compartmentalized as ‘on-reservation’ or ‘off-reservation.’  

“Rather, the new organized drug trafficking groups that we are seeing operating in the Bakken oil boom region have tentacles that connect the drug trade in New Town, Williston, Watford City and Dickinson like never before,” he told Forum News Service. “This is another example of the big-city crime problems that are facing so many of our hometowns in western North Dakota.”

Stenehjem noted that the 2013 state Legislature devoted additional resources to his office and $16.6 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies that have helped facilitate such operations.

“Citizens should be assured that our efforts will continue, focusing in particular on the illegal drug trade, human trafficking and the sex trade,” he said in the news release.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.