- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - An Oregon man accused of distributing powdered fentanyl and other drugs that led to overdoses in several states and two deaths in the Grand Forks area pleaded guilty Monday in federal court.

Brandon Hubbard, 41, pleaded guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.

Defense attorney Jeff Bredahl, of Fargo, said after the hearing that Hubbard, of Portland, Oregon, is “sincerely remorseful” for his actions.

“Brandon is devastated,” Bredahl said. “He wishes he could take it all back.”

The investigation dubbed by the feds as “Operation Denial” began with the January overdose death of 18-year-old Bailey Henke, of Grand Forks. It led authorities to identify 12 overdose victims in North Dakota, North Carolina and Oregon. Four of them died and eight suffered serious injuries.

U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said in court Monday that Hubbard made “significant admissions” after he was arrested last year. Myers said earlier that Hubbard told investigators that he could be one of the largest, if not the largest fentanyl dealer in the United States. Federal agents said Hubbard told them he knew fentanyl was extremely powerful and could easily cause an overdose or kill someone.

Hubbard also admitted Monday to dealing other drugs, including heroin, ecstasy and Xanax.

Myers 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 be conducted using the Bitcoin virtual currency system, which investigators say was meant to hide the drug trafficking operation.

Prosecutors say the ring also involved a Colombian man accused of trafficking the deadly substances while serving a prison stint in Canada. Daniel Vivas Ceron, 34, allegedly operated a business that moved fentanyl and other similar substances from Canada and China into the United States. He was arrested last summer in Panama City, Panama, and is awaiting extradition.

Two other men were arrested in January in Georgia and Washington on drug-distribution charges. Five Grand Forks residents have pleaded guilty in the case.

Sentencing for Hubbard is scheduled for June 26 in Fargo.

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