FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A 19-year-old man from North Dakota was sentenced to more than a decade in prison Thursday for supplying synthetic drugs blamed for the overdose deaths of two teens, a case that launched an investigation stretching into Texas that netted 15 arrests.
Adam Budge, originally from Fargo, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to distribute the controlled substances that led to the deaths of Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17 of Park Rapids, Minn. They died within a week of each in June 2012, after ingesting the substances Budge stole from another dealer.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said during the hearing the conspiracy involved "a bunch of kids in this case who all thought they were amateur chemists" and adults who failed to intervene. Supporters of Budge filled four rows in the federal courthouse.
"Our first job is to keep everybody alive," Erickson said, raising his voice. "It's time for the adults to act like adults."
The two-hour sentencing hearing included statements from relatives of Budge and both victims. Debbie Bjerk, Christian's mother, said she and the Stai family have been sentenced to a lifetime of grieving.
At one point she turned to the people sitting behind Budge, saying: "I would like to ask each and every one of them where they were when he was getting in trouble."
Budge's mother said her son "never knew the true nature" of the drugs he stole from Andrew Spofford, a self-proclaimed "hobby chemist" who is accused of cooking up the drugs.
"There are a lot of families hurting, not just the families in the courtroom," Heather Budge said.
The arrest of Budge led authorities to connect the conspiracy first to Spofford and then to Charles Carlton, who allegedly imported the chemicals from various countries through a business he used in Texas and sold them over the Internet.
Spofford is set to be sentenced Monday. Carlton has a plea hearing set in March.
Budge looked at the Bjerk and Stai families during part in his statement when he apologized for his actions, asked for forgiveness and said he never meant to hurt anyone.
"I'm sorry there are two very good people who aren't in this world because of me," Budge said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said the case refutes the notion that dealing in hallucinogens is a victimless crime and recommended a sentence of more than 12 years in prison.
"Two kids, dead. Three kids, hospitalized. These drugs came from the hands of Adam Budge," he said.
Defense attorney Jade Rosenfelt asked for a sentence of 10 years, citing Budge's cooperation with authorities that led to the arrests of Spofford and Carlton. She said her request should not be viewed as "disrespect to the family or ignorance of the facts."
The judge settled on a sentence of a little more than 11 years.
Rosenfelt's and Budge's parents said Budge exposed the conspiracy at the risk of getting beat up by other drug dealers. Myers gave Budge credit for the information he provided but said this case does not involve violent individuals.
"As an organization, this seems to be one of the least dangerous organizations selling the most dangerous drugs," Myers said.