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U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota receives international award for work on 'Operation Denial'

Acting U.S. Attorney in the district of North Dakota, Chris Myers, delivers a press conference regarding federal drug charges against a Columbian national related to the overdose death of Bailey Henke on July 28, 2015, in Grand Forks. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS — The world's largest group for police leaders has recognized the U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota for its work in prosecuting suspects in an international drug ring that led to several fentanyl overdose deaths.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Myers accepted the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Leadership in the Prevention of Transnational Crime Award, according to a news release. The award was given to the North Dakota office for its work on "Operation Denial," an international investigation that was launched after the 2015 overdose death of 18-year-old Bailey Henke in Grand Forks, the association said.

"I am honored that our office has been recognized as a leader in battling transnational criminal organizations by such a prestigious international organization like IACP," Myers said in a statement. "The credit goes to the fantastic employees of the U.S. Attorney's Office and the special team of agents and prosecutors that have spent the last 3 1⁄2 years investigating and prosecuting 'Operation Denial.'"

Multiple agencies, including the Grand Forks Police Department, were involved in bringing charges against 32 defendants, with about a dozen of those suspects receiving federal prison sentences. Colombia national Daniel Vivas Ceron allegedly orchestrated from a Canadian prison a drug ring that saw tens of thousands of fentanyl pills and other drugs shipped across the U.S. between 2015 and 2017, according to court documents.

The latest round of indictments was announced in October 2017 and included Chinese national Jian Zhang, who has been accused of using his business to lead drug operations in China and arrange shipments of fentanyl to the U.S.

Zhang has been designated by the U.S. as a significant narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act, a first for an alleged fentanyl dealer, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during an April news conference in Fargo.

Zhang was arrested with others in the U.S. Ceron is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 4 on charges detailing his involvement in the drug ring.

Myers accepted the award Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., at the association's annual conference, which was attended by more than 18,000 law enforcement officials from around the world, according to the release. The association includes more than 30,000 members from 150 countries, according to its website.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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