FARGO — Chris Myers was never one to seek the spotlight with news conferences or media appearances while he was U.S. attorney for North Dakota. He has no political aspirations so there's no need to get his face in front of the cameras in hopes of someday being, say, the state's attorney general.

But Myers, an effective lead federal prosecutor before being coldly usurped by somebody who wants to someday be North Dakota's attorney general, deserves all the credit for a recent conviction in a major international drug case tried in Fargo.

Steven Barros Pinto of Pawtucket, R.I., was found guilty in federal court Friday, July 9, of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, obstruction of justice and money laundering in connection with an international fentanyl ring.

Pinto was accused of being an organizer of a ring that distributed tens of thousands of fentanyl pills that were sold by drug dealers in 11 states. The drugs were believed to be connected to multiple overdose deaths and injuries around the country.

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Those deaths included 18-year-old Bailey Henke of Grand Forks, whose overdose in January 2015 launched Operation Denial, an international investigation into fentanyl operations.

Pinto and his cohorts — from China, Colombia, Canada and the U.S. — were bad people doing bad things. They were a big enough criminal enterprise that when their indictments were unsealed in 2019, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a stop in Fargo to make the announcement.

Sessions told the gathered law enforcement and media that the defendants sold fentanyl and its analogues from coast to coast using about 30 different aliases, cryptocurrency and encrypted communications. They laundered money through third parties.

Myers was there, specifically drawing lavish praise from Sessions.

Yes, there was a political element to Sessions' stop here. He was touting the Trump administration's hard line on opioids.

But there can be no question that Myers' work was apolitical, more about getting drug dealers behind bars than coating himself in glory for a future political campaign.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely

That's why many wanted Myers to remain U.S. Attorney even after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. Myers indicated his willingness to remain in the job and had bipartisan support from North Dakota's federal delegation at the time — Republican U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer.

Then former U.S. Attorney and longtime Republican politician Drew Wrigley decided he wanted to advance his political career and made it known he wanted the job. He got it, because politics.

Myers stayed in the U.S. Attorney's office under Wrigley and saw the prosecution of Pinto to its successful conclusion.

It was the culmination of more than six years of work. Most of Pinto's colleagues had already been convicted or pleaded guilty, more than 30 people in all.

After an unusually lengthy five-week trial, Pinto was found guilty.

Myers deserves much of the credit, despite being knee-capped by his successor and even if there wasn't a news conference to mark the big news.

Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com.