A Norfolk, Nebraska man is among six people who have been indicted by a federal grand jury in North Dakota investigating a drug smuggling ring and the murder of a Minnesota man.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley announced the indictments Friday.
Twenty-three-year-old Michael Petzold of Norfolk, who allegedly headed a conspiracy to bring drugs into the United States and Mexico, is accused of killing Lee Avila, 28, of East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
Police said they got a 911 call and found Avila shot to death at an East Grand Forks residence June 30. Authorities said Avila had earlier criminal convictions and they labeled his death as drug-related.
Petzold is charged with murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, a charge that could bring the death penalty, Wrigley said at a Fargo news conference.
"This is the first time a federal indictment has been returned in North Dakota or Minnesota -- I'm not aware of any there -- where a federal death penalty is a potential ... on a narcotics trafficking case," Wrigley said.
Also indicted was Avila's mother, Francisca Avila-Vargas, 44, of St. Paul, Minnesota, Wrigley said. Avila-Vargas, who goes by the nicknames "Poncha" and "Mama," faces a conspiracy charge in the same indictment as Petzold, though she was not charged directly in her son's death.
The charges involve a drug ring alleged to have brought large amounts of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana from Mexico and other places to the Red River Valley since 2002.
Others indicted were Soledad Ybarra, 21, a finalist for Fargo's 2002 "American Idol" competition; Anthony Valdez, 22, of Turlock, California and Lacey Kathryn Johnson, 18, and Jonathan Olbay Meyer, 21, both of Fargo.
The defendants face between 10 years to life in prison if convicted on conspiracy of possessing meth, cocaine and marijuana with the intent of selling the drugs.
A seventh defendant tied to the conspiracy, Troy Gene Lorsung, 22, of Moorhead, Minnesota pleaded guilty in federal court last week to selling meth. Because of previous drug convictions, Lorsung faces a mandatory life sentence unless he provides authorities with information that helps convict others involved in selling drugs.
Clay County, Minnesota, authorities said last fall that they found a handgun and a spiral notebook with notes detailing a drug and homicide investigation during a search of the Moorhead, Minnesota apartment where Ybarra lived.
Petzold had been scheduled for trial this week on charges involving a drug conspiracy. Authorities said he had lived in Wahpeton and was convicted there for drug possession five years ago.
The latest indictment, which links two trafficking conspiracies filed last year, accuses Petzold of heading a ring that distributed at least 33 pounds of meth, with a street value topping $600,000, in the Red River Valley.
Authorities said the trafficking ring sold drugs from homes and hotels in Fargo, Wahpeton, Sanborn, and the communities of Moorhead, Hawley, Cormorant and Breckenridge in Minnesota.
"At some point, you're going to run out of folks who are going to be participating at this level of activity," Wrigley said. "We have to do everything we can to take out people who traffic."