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MinnPost.Com: Drug dealing on Red Lake Nation

"On June 16, seven members of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians appeared before U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum in Minneapolis, where they had come to plead guilty in connection with the biggest cocaine bust in the history of the isolated and crime-plagued northern Minnesota reservation.

After the defendants formally confessed to their roles in the drug ring, it seemed the long-running case, which ensnared a total of 33 Red Lakers and one Mexican national, would come to an end without a single trial or, for that matter, any consequential disclosure of the evidence.

All that changed when Judge Rosenbaum refused to accept a plea bargain from one defendant, Ramon Charles Sayers. Under questioning from the judge, Sayers, a 33-year old ninth-grade dropout and convenience-store clerk known on the reservation as "Razor," admitted he arranged cocaine deals over the phone, which was the basis of a reduced charge to which he attempted to plead guilty.

But when Rosenbaum asked Sayers to identify his supplier, the defendant balked. At that, the judge rejected the plea deal and ordered Sayers to stand trial. On Thursday morning, after three days of testimony, a 12-member jury convicted Sayers on two drug-conspiracy counts, the most serious of which carries a minimum 10-year prison sentence and a maximum of life.

While Sayers never took the stand, secretly recorded telephone conversations and testimony from his fellow defendants created a vivid portrait of the burgeoning crack trade at Red Lake, a trade in which dealers operated with near impunity and, sometimes, with the assistance of tribal police.

Among those swept up in the investigation were two former tribal police officers, Herbert May and Robert Jeffrey Van Wert. Earlier this month, May and Van Wert pleaded guilty to using a telephone to facilitate a drug deal, a felony charge that carries a maximum of four years in prison. Both officers admitted under oath that they tipped drug dealer Gary Lee Strong to the existence of investigations. Van Wert also testified that Strong paid him $300 in cash for alerting him to a pending warrant."

Get the Story:
In federal court, a harsh light is cast on Red Lake crack trade -- and tribal police (MinnPost.Com 6/30)