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Charges: Accused leader of drug ring connected to fentanyl deaths tried to warn co-conspirators, told them to be quiet

Daniel Vivas Ceron

FARGO — The accused ringleader of an international drug trafficking operation connected to overdose deaths in Grand Forks told co-conspirators to remain quiet and tried to warn them about an investigation targeting his associates, according to new federal charges.

Daniel Vivas Ceron, 37, pleaded not guilty Tuesday, Nov. 29, in North Dakota's U.S. District Court in Fargo to obstruction of justice, an accusation that was added this month to a list of charges that were filed in June 2015.

Ceron, a Colombian national, now faces six charges related to an international investigation into drug trafficking operations that led to the death of Bailey Henke. The Grand Forks 18-year-old died of a fentanyl overdose in January 2015.

That launched Operation Denial, an investigation that brought charges against a dozen defendants in North Dakota's federal court.

Ceron has been accused of leading efforts to traffic drugs, including fentanyl, from China and Canada into the U.S. and ultimately Fargo, Grand Forks and Portland, Ore. Using initials only, court documents indicate there were four other victims of the drug ring in Portland.

The new charge accuses Ceron of corruptly influencing, obstructing and impeding the investigation by secretly sending letters to co-conspirators. He told his associates to remain silent about the charged drug trafficking conspiracy and tried "to warn potential targets of the investigation," according to court documents.

The initial charges include conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and controlled substance analogues resulting in serious bodily injury and death, conspiracy to import controlled substances and controlled substance analogues into the United States resulting in serious bodily injury and death, aiding and abetting the distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death, money laundering conspiracy and continuing criminal enterprise.

Ceron was arrested in July 2015 in Panama as a result of the indictment. He was extradited in January to North Dakota.

His trial is slated for Feb. 6.

He is being held at the Cass County jail.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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