Daniel Vivas Ceron, 38, has signed a plea agreement that was unsealed Monday, July 8. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole after investigators said he operated a drug ring from inside Drummond Institution, a medium-security prison near Montreal, court documents say.
Bailey Henke, an 18-year-old man from Grand Forks, was one of several people who fatally overdosed from drugs linked to the drug ring, court documents said.
In exchange for a guilty plea to three of the six federal charges, the other charges would be dismissed. He faces a minimum mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Vivas was arrested in July 2015 in Panama after being released from Drummond, where he had served about 12 years for drug-related crimes in Canada. U.S. agents accused him of shipping packages from China through Canada and into the U.S., where the drugs were cut into tens of thousands of pills, according to court documents. The fentanyl was then shipped across the U.S., including Oregon, Florida and North Dakota.
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Henke’s death led to “Operation Denial,” an international drug investigation that has netted more than 30 indictments. The operation also has resulted in several awards and accolades for the U.S. Attorney's Office and local law enforcement.
Jeff Sessions, then U.S. attorney general, visited Fargo in April 2018 to announce indictments against Chinese nationals connected to the investigation, including Jian Zhang, who is accused of using the business name Zaron Bio-tech to further drug trafficking efforts.
He is the first alleged fentanyl dealer to be designated a significant narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act, Sessions said. It’s unclear whether Zhang is in U.S. custody, as authorities have not announced his extradition from China.
Vivas previously argued his rights were violated, claiming he was wrongfully arrested in Panama and his confession was obtained through coercion. In a handwritten 231-page sworn statement, he detailed what led to his arrest and outlined his arguments for a dismissal.
A judge ruled Vivas was properly arrested and recommended denying his request to have his confession thrown out. Vivas’ plea hearing is set for Friday, July 12.