Drug bust nets 22 arrests in western North Dakota

FARGO, N.D. - State and federal officials who have targeted organized drug rings in North Dakota's oil patch announced Wednesday that 22 people have been arrested in the Dickinson area in an investigation dubbed "Operation Pipe Cleaner."

The conspiracy allegedly involved the distribution of heroin, methamphetamine, crack cocaine, cocaine, marijuana and painkillers. Four people were arrested on weapons charges. Two are accused of tampering with witnesses.

The arrests "show that federal, state and local law enforcement agents and prosecutors are committed to working together to fight increased organized drug distribution activity in the Bakken region," U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said Wednesday in a statement.

The arrests are the result of a joint investigation by the FBI and North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. It was one of the largest drug busts since federal officials announced a law enforcement partnership known as Project Safe Bakken and North Dakota lawmakers set aside millions for additional officers in the oil patch and improvements to the state crime lab.

"The North Dakota Legislature recognized the need for additional resources to be devoted to fighting crime in oil-impacted counties," state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in a statement. "We are making sure these resources are targeted to make an immediate difference for North Dakota citizens."

Fourteen of the defendants are charged in federal court and eight in Stark County.

Spencer Earl Rogers, 24, and Laverne Taylor, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif., face the most charges. Rogers is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of firearms by a convicted felon, two counts of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Taylor is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, two counts of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

Court records do not list lawyers for any of the defendants.

Most of the others charged are from Dickinson, one is from Minot, two are from Las Vegas, one is from Bermuda Dunes, Calif., and one is from Broomfield, Colo.

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