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Published February 21, 2012, 06:52 PM

Grand Forks Man Pleads Guilty in Pharmacy Burglaries

FARGO — Thousands of powerful painkillers were stolen last fall by people who schemed to burglarize pharmacies in the Red River Valley and then distribute or use the drugs, a federal prosecutor said.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications

FARGO — Thousands of powerful painkillers were stolen last fall by people who schemed to burglarize pharmacies in the Red River Valley and then distribute or use the drugs, a federal prosecutor said.

Joshua Ray Fonder, 28, of Grand Forks, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Fargo on Tuesday to conspiracy to burglarize a pharmacy and conspiracy to possess and distribute a controlled substance — the first guilty plea in the case.

It’s believed to be the first major prescription drug trafficking case charged in federal court here since U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon launched an anti-heroin campaign in December — an effort that also aims to curb abuse of opiate-based painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, which are seen by authorities as gateways to heroin.

Burglaries

Fonder was charged last fall in Marshall County, Minn., in connection with unsuccessful burglary attempts on Oct. 16 and 21 at a pharmacy in Warren, which ultimately led to his arrest, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said.

Myers laid out details of the federal case in court Tuesday, saying Fonder and an accomplice, James Hensrud of Grand Forks, plotted last September to burglarize pharmacies in northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.

On Sept. 30, they allegedly broke into Paul Bilden Pharmacy in Northwood, N.D., and stole 2,310 hydrocodone pills and 3,500 codeine pills, along with other less powerful drugs, Myers said. Fonder took several hundred of the hydrocodone pills and distributed them, as did several other co-conspirators, he said.

Fonder and Hensrud also allegedly broke into the Compass Delivery Systems building in Grand Forks on Oct. 8 and stole 1,500 hydrocodone pills and 200 codeine pills. Fonder and a co-conspirator distributed the drugs, Myers said.

It’s unclear how many others were allegedly involved in the conspiracy.

Myers said Fonder also was aware of an Oct. 17 burglary at a Wheaton, Minn., pharmacy, in which co-conspirators took 4,600 hydrocodone, 39 Adderall and 700 phenobarbital pills.

Other pharmacies burglarized as part of the conspiracy were Drayton (N.D.) Drug and Thrifty Drug in Karlstad, Minn., both on Oct. 30, and Pamida Pharmacy in East Grand Forks on Halloween, Myers said.

Plea agreement

Hensrud is charged in Grand Forks County District Court with five counts of drug delivery and one count of possession with intent to deliver, as well as felony theft of property. The charges stem from a Nov. 1 burglary at Grand Forks Family Medicine also listed in the federal case.

Myers declined to say if federal charges are being considered against Hensrud. He said he couldn’t comment about Fonder’s case until after sentencing, which is set for May 30.

Fonder, who has been in custody since Oct. 21, will remain in the Grand Forks County Jail until his sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson ordered. He faces up to 20 years for the drug conspiracy charge and up to 10 years for the burglary conspiracy.

In his plea agreement, he agreed to cooperate before a grand jury in return for prosecutors recommending a lighter sentence. He said in court Tuesday that he’s a drug addict suffering from anxiety and depression.

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