Two men arrested earlier this year after Bismarck police seized more than $80,000 worth of methamphetamine and marijuana at an Oliver County farmstead face federal drug and weapons charges.
Shawn Leo Barth, 32, Mandan, Rosalio Guitron-Vargas, 37, an illegal alien from Mexico, and three others were indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month for their involvement in an alleged drug trafficking ring. Drug task forces, police departments and sheriff's departments throughout the state had been investigating the group for almost four years, U.S. Assistant Attorney Rick Volk said.
According to the indictment, the band was responsible for transporting meth from Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Washington state to North Dakota. Drugs were stored at various locations in Burleigh, Morton and Oliver counties until it could be exchanged for cash, cars or boats. Firearms were part of the drug transactions, and those buying and selling the drugs were threatened and intimidated, the indictment said.
The indictment mentions five incidents between April of 2000 and March of 2003 in which law enforcement seized a total of about a pound of meth and 6 pounds of a mixture containing meth.
"This has been a lengthy and detailed investigation," said U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley. "It's a good example of federal, state and local task forces working together."
Barth and Guitron-Vargas, also known as Gregorio Arechigo Valasco and Josue Efrain Nino, originally faced drug charges in Burleigh County District Court, but the charges were dismissed because of the federal case, Burleigh County State's Attorney Richard Riha said. Volk said there was no reason to duplicate the charges at the state level, and the federal case was broader with stiffer penalties.
"The state charges involved one incident, and the federal case expands it over a course of time," Volk said.
Barth, Guitron-Vargas, Thomas D. Pinks Jr., 25, Washburn, and two others were charged with conspiracy to possess meth with intent to distribute. The names and ages of a man and a woman also facing federal charges were not released because they have not appeared in court.
Barth was also charged with possession of meth and marijuana with intent to distribute, distribution of meth, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Barth was convicted of multiple drug and burglary charges between 1989 and 1997 after which he possessed a U.S. revolver pistol and about five rounds of .32 caliber bullets, according to the indictment.
Guitron-Vargas also was charged with distribution of meth and marijuana and possession of a firearm by an illegal alien.
At their court appearances Monday, Pinks, Barth and Guitron-Vargas pleaded innocent to the charges. Pinks was released on electronic monitoring under the supervision of U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, Guitron-Vargas and Barth are being held without bond in the Burleigh County jail and the other two are in prison for unrelated convictions, Volk said.
Volk said he expects that the remaining two suspects named in the indictment will have their first appearances in the near future. A trial has not been set for Barth, Guitron-Vargas and Pinks and likely won't until the others have appeared, Volk said.
(Reach reporter Mike Albrecht at 250-8261 or email@example.com.)