Man receives life for dealing fentanyl that led to overdoses


FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A man who told investigators he was the largest powdered fentanyl dealer in the United States was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison.

Brandon Hubbard, of Portland, Oregon, was tried in federal court in North Dakota because prosecutors said the drugs he sold over the internet resulted in two overdose deaths in the Grand Forks area. U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ordered Hubbard to pay more than $17,000 to families of the victims, 18-year-old Bailey Henke and 19-year-old Evan Poitra.

In a rare move, Erickson said another hearing would be held later to discuss whether to reduce the length of the sentence. Attorneys on both sides said they didn’t have adequate time to prepare for Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, which was moved up so Hubbard could have surgery for a shoulder injury he suffered while skateboarding 10 years ago.

Hubbard, 41, who was shackled, told the judge he has dealt with pain management since the accident, but said it was no excuse for his actions.

“There were some extenuating circumstances, but in the end it was me,” he said. “Being a drug dealer is not something I aspire to. I hurt a lot of people. I’m truly sorry for that. I know what I did was wrong.”

Jeff Bredahl, Hubbard’s attorney, said afterward that his client is not a dangerous individual who needs to be locked up for life.

“He is a good person who made some bad decisions that he can’t take back,” Bredahl said. “He is devastated by what happened.”

The investigation dubbed by the feds as “Operation Denial” began with the January 2015 overdose death of Henke and led authorities to identify 12 overdose victims in North Dakota, North Carolina and Oregon. Four of them died and eight suffered serious injuries.

Prosecutors said the drugs were sold on a website only accessible through a router designed to conceal a user’s location, internet usage and identity. Most transactions were required to use Bitcoin, which investigators say was meant to hide the drug trafficking operation.

The ring allegedly involved a Colombian man accused of trafficking the deadly substances while serving a prison stint in Canada; he is awaiting extradition from Panama. Two other men were arrested in Georgia and Washington on drug-distribution charges and are awaiting trial. Five Grand Forks residents have pleaded guilty.

Bredahl said he hopes the result of a second hearing for Hubbard will be “something other than life.”

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