- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A Texas man accused of selling chemicals that were traced to the synthetic drug overdose deaths of two teenagers in the Grand Forks area plans to change his plea, according to court documents.

Charles Carlton, 29, was charged in North Dakota as part of a case that netted more than a dozen arrests. He pleaded not guilty last year to a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances resulting in death.

The federal charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Carlton was scheduled for trial next month, but his defense attorney, Alexander Reichert, filed a change of plea notice in federal court on Monday. The document offered no details about a possible plea deal, and Reichert did not return email and phone message seeking comment Tuesday. U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, whose office is handling the case, declined comment.

Authorities said Carlton sold the chemicals that a Grand Forks man, Andrew Spofford, used to make hallucinogenic drugs that eventually led to the overdose deaths of Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17, of Park Rapids, Minn.

Spofford, who described himself to police as a “hobby chemist,” pleaded guilty in October 2012. He is scheduled for sentencing on March 3.

The indictment against Carlton, who lives in Katy, Texas, describes him as the “leader, organizer, manager and supervisor” of the conspiracy. Investigators said Carlton imported the chemicals from China, the U.K, Austria, Poland, Greece, Spain and Canada through a business he used, and then distributed the chemicals throughout the U.S.

Prosecutors have asked that Carlton turn over $385,000 in alleged drug profits.

Bjerk and Stai died within a week of each other in June after ingesting the hallucinogens. Stai is believed to have ingested powder that was mixed with melted chocolate, cooled and eaten like candy, police said. Prosecutors said several got sick from the drugs.

Among the other people arrested in the case were Wesley Sweeney, of Manvel, and Adam Budge, of East Grand Forks, Minn. Both men admitted to obtaining the drugs from Spofford and making them available to Bjerk and Stai.

In a request filed in June to modify Carlton’s bond conditions, Reichert argued that his client “has demonstrated time and time again that he would like nothing more than to confront these egregious allegations head on with facts and science.”

The paperwork filed Monday doesn’t indicate why Carlton wanted to change his plea, but it asks that the hearing be held in about eight weeks so Carlton could buy a plane ticket at reasonable price.

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