Crime, Law and Justice

Feds indict drug-trafficking ring targeting Duluth, announce a new Duluth-based prosecutor

A man talks to the press
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger traveled to Duluth on Tuesday to announce the indictment of eight people for allegedly selling fentanyl and methamphetamine in Duluth. He also announced that his office for the first time has hired a full-time federal prosecutor to be based in Duluth.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Federal prosecutors have indicted eight members of a Chicago drug trafficking ring for allegedly distributing large amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine in the Duluth area.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger traveled to Duluth to announce the indictment, where he also announced that his office for the first time has hired a full-time criminal prosecutor who will be based in Duluth, former St. Louis County assistant attorney Nichole Carter.

Luger also said his office has added a victim witness specialist “to enhance our ability to serve victims in the Bemidji area and surrounding regions throughout Indian Country.”

The additions came after a meeting with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in northeastern Minnesota last fall, when Luger said he heard a “clear message” of how “the fentanyl crisis has afflicted this region.”

“We realized we needed to put more effort here because of the drug trafficking, and hopefully make a substantial difference,” Luger said.

Chad Nagorski, a Duluth police lieutenant and commander with the Lake Superior Violent Offender Task Force, said investigators worked for more than two years to bring charges against the Chicago drug trafficking ring.

He said they purchased drugs on at least 12 occasions from the group, including some using undercover personnel.

Seven of those charged are from Chicago. One defendant, Matthew Erickson, is from Duluth, and allegedly is the member of the conspiracy who sold the drugs in the Twin Ports, Nagorski said.

Officials said the trafficking ring targeted those suffering from substance use disorders, including selling fentanyl to people in treatment.

“We know that these people are violent predatory offenders who pick on and go after some of our most vulnerable people,” said Duluth Police Chief Mike Ceynowa.

In the Lake Superior task force area, which includes portions of northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, there were 663 opioid overdoses in 2023, according to St. Louis County Attorney Kim Maki. Of those, 61 were fatal.

Duluth experienced a record number of opioid overdose deaths in 2023, Luger said.

“These aren’t just stats on a page,” said Maki. “They’re people that we know, they’re our family members, our clergy, our teachers.”

Officials say the issue is particularly potent in the Twin Ports because dealers are able to sell drugs at a higher price than in some larger markets.

“And we also don’t have the violent competition that we’re seeing elsewhere. So it becomes a place where they think that they can do this,” Ceynowa said.

Building cases against multi-state drug trafficking rings takes significant time and resources, officials say.

“I think with Attorney Luger bringing in federal resources and federal people, it’s going to help us move the needle on this issue,” said St. Louis County Sheriff Gordon Ramsey.