Charges announced in large drug operation on Native American reservations in ND
Investigators are calling it "Operation Blue Prairie"
NORTH DAKOTA — Twenty six people are charged in what is being called an unprecedented drug distribution enterprise on Indian country in North Dakota.
Operation Blue Prairie is the investigation into a large drug ring taking place on North Dakota’s Spirit Lake, Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold Indian Reservations since 2015.
“It was the objective of this conspiracy to target and exploit the largely Native American population on our Indian reservations here in North Dakota,” says U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Drew Wrigley. “It is driving and fueling the narcotics addiction problems that we have in Indian country and around the state.”
Twenty six defendants are facing conspiracy charges involving the distribution of roughly $2.5 million worth of Oxycodone pills.
Eight defendants are from Detroit, one is from Kentucky, and 17 are from North Dakota.
Investigators say the operation was led by brothers Darius and Baquan Sledge of Detroit, who smuggled the drugs through cars, trains and airplanes onto reservations.
“A lot of the defendants, they’ve been targeted and made complicit in the conspiracy,” says Wrigley. “They’re been brought in to feed their own addiction in some instances, or some instances, I guess, it’s the lure of the almighty dollar.”
Wrigley says multiple aspects of this operation are unprecedented, including its span over three reservations, the task force compiled to investigate, and the connection with a major metropolitan area.
If convicted, the Sledge brothers will face minimum mandatory sentences of 20 years in prison.
“This conspiracy itself is really as simple as it is nefarious,” adds Wrigley. “Indian country is our country. These are our brothers and sisters. We are all here in the same state. This is just an under-served region historically and this is doing a lot to move toward meeting the need out there.”
Wrigley, along with the agents from the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Marshals Service say they pledge to continue addressing drug addiction and trafficking issues on reservations.
Trials are scheduled for February 23rd.
Eight of the defendants have already pleaded guilty.