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Published June 29, 2012, 11:21 AM

Manvel, ND, Man Charged in GF Drug Death

The Manvel, N.D., man found nude June 11 near the body of a Grand Forks teen dead of a drug overdose has been arrested and charged with two counts of felony reckless endangerment in connection with the incident.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications

The Manvel, N.D., man found nude June 11 near the body of a Grand Forks teen dead of a drug overdose has been arrested and charged with two counts of felony reckless endangerment in connection with the incident.

Wesley Sweeney, 18, appeared in state district court in Grand Forks Thursday on the Class C felony charges that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine; he also was charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

About 6 a.m., June 11, Sweeney was found in a small park, unclothed, a few blocks away from the body of Christian Bjerk, 18, which police found lying near the street in the 400 block of North 51st Street. A 15-year-old boy wearing only shorts was found sitting on the grass a few feet from Bjerk’s body, according to police reports.

Investigators say Sweeney and the juvenile appeared under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and were speaking and acting incoherently and irrationally. Both were taken to Altru Hospital.

Bjerk appeared to be the victim of a synthetic drug, law enforcement authorities said; his official cause of death has not been released publicly.

But federal, state and local law enforcement authorities in North Dakota and Minnesota have linked Bjerk’s death and the June 13 overdose of Elijah Stai, 17, in East Grand Forks to what they say are particularly dangerous synthetic hallucinogens or psychedelic drugs in white powder form thought to have been made by a Grand Forks man who was charged earlier this month.

Stai died June 15 in Altru, never having come out of a coma. At least five other young people have overdosed on the same or similar drugs in recent weeks, authorities have said.

Adam Budge was arrested in connection with Stai’s death, charged in Polk County with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for what prosecutors say was providing the drug thought to have killed Stai.

Andrew Spofford, Grand Forks, was charged June 14 in North Dakota District Court in Grand Forks with drug manufacturing with intent to deliver and reckless endangerment connected to Bjerk’s death and other overdoses. Investigators think Spofford made the drug and Budge, an associate, helped him distribute it, according to court affidavits. Budge’s attorney told a judge in Crookston last week he’s convinced his client soon will be charged in federal court in Fargo. U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, the top federal prosecutor in North Dakota, has said a federal investigation into the drug deaths and overdoses is ongoing.

Sweeney was arrested Wednesday after Reed Middleton told police he was riding around with Sweeney that day, according to a police report filed in the court case.

Middleton told police Sweeney told him that he, Sweeney, “should not be charged with a crime for what happened to Bjerk because all he did was provide the drugs , that it was not Sweeney’s fault if Bjerk didn’t know how much to take or took too much of the drug.”

Middleton, of Thompson, N.D., who is 20 or 21, was arrested Wednesday and charged in Grand Forks with felony drug possession and two misdemeanors.

According to a police investigator, on June 10 or June 11, Sweeney provided the white powder to Bjerk and C.J. in the home of Julie Thorsen at 397 N. 51st Street between midnight and 2 a.m. on June 11.

The three became “incoherent, yelling, screaming and making irrational statements,” and those at Thorsen’s house made the three leave, investigators said.

In a bedroom in the house, police found a white bag containing the white powder witnesses said had been brought in by Sweeney and inhaled by Sweeney, Bjerk and C.J.

Witnesses said Sweeney said the white powder was “Ketamine,” investigators said.

Sweeney’s cell phone, also found in the residence, likely contains evidence, in text messages, photos and call logs, of “ongoing criminal activity,” including “the possible source of the controlled substance which caused the overdoses of Sweeney and Bjerk,” according to a search warrant affidavit by Police Sgt. Mike Jennings. Perusing the cell phone’s data would provide “the opportunity to use this stored data to further several criminal investigations,” Jennings said in his affidavit.

Sweeney’s preliminary hearing on the reckless endangerment charges is scheduled for August 13. He is in the Grand Forks County jail under $100,000 cash or surety bond.

Grand Forks County State’s Attorney Peter Welte said Sweeney is charged with endangering the lives of Bjerk and the 15-year-old male - identified in court documents by his initials, CJ - by providing them with a “white, powdery substance,” and allowing them to inhale it, thereby contributing to Bjerk’s death and to the overdose of the 15-year-old, who was hospitalized for several days.

“With these synthetic drugs, both law enforcement and the public don’t know all the facts that are out there,” Welte said today. “That is one of the reasons we have such a concern for public safety, that people need to stay away from these drugs.”