FARGO (AP) - A Texas man accused of supplying the controlled substances used to make the synthetic hallucinogenic drugs that led to two teenagers' overdose deaths pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court.
Charles Carlton, of Katy, Texas, is charged with three counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Authorities say Carlton, 28, led a conspiracy to import controlled substances from Asia and Europe and resell them over the Internet to domestic buyers. He's being asked to turn over $385,000 in alleged drug profits.
Carlton was arrested more than a month ago in Texas and has bounced between judges and lawyers. He originally hired an attorney but later asked for a public defender. The lawyer scheduled to represent him Tuesday had the flu, so Grand Forks attorney Alexander Reichert filled in through a video feed.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein in Fargo scheduled a trial for March 19. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Myers told Klein he expected the trial to last about three weeks.
About a dozen people have been charged for their roles in the case, which has led calls for tougher penalties on people who peddle synthetic drugs. North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill that would outlaw chemicals used to make the drugs.
One of Carlton's alleged customers, Andrew Spofford of Grand Forks, admitted to cooking up the hallucinogens that led to the deaths of Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, and Elijah Stai, 17, of Park Rapids, Minn. Spofford is scheduled to be sentenced on March 26.
Bjerk and Stai died within a week of each other in June. Stai is believed to have ingested powder that was mixed with melted chocolate, cooled and eaten like candy, police said.
An order by a federal Texas judge that Carlton be released before trial is being appealed by federal prosecutors in North Dakota, who believe Carlton is a flight risk. Reichert pressed Klein on a date for the appeal, which has not been scheduled.
"I mean, he has been in custody for 30 days without a review," Reichert said.
Klein said court officials only recently found out that Carlton had been moved from Texas to North Dakota, and she thinks a North Dakota judge will schedule the appeal hearing "in short order."
Carlton told Klein he had a 10th grade education and that he was having trouble seeing long distances because he was waiting for his eyeglasses to arrive from his wife in Texas. But, Carlton said, he read and understood the charges against him.
Prosecutors believe Carlton imported hallucinogenic chemicals from China, the U.K., Austria, Poland, Greece, Spain, and Canada through Motion Resources, LLC. Those chemicals were then distributed throughout the U.S. in an attempt to evade law enforcement, investigators say.
Three other people are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances resulting in serious bodily injury and death. Byron Landry, 27, of Kiln, Miss., and John Polinski, 25, of Houston, have pleaded not guilty. Ryan Lane, 27, of East Grand Forks, Minn., has yet to appear in court.