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Florida man pleads guilty to role in fentanyl ring operating in Grand Forks

Anthony Santos Gomes

FARGO—A Florida man has pleaded guilty to charges connected to an international drug investigation sparked by the overdose death of a Grand Forks man.

Anthony Santos Gomes, 33, of Davie, Fla., admitted to money laundering and conspiring to distribute drugs that resulted in death or serious bodily injury, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fargo announced Monday, May 14. He was connected to a group that trafficked drugs, including fentanyl, from China through Canada and then to multiple states in the U.S., including North Dakota.

The overdose death of 18-year-old Bailey Henke of Grand Forks launched an international investigation called "Operation Denial," which has netted multiple arrests and convictions. The drug operations also have resulted in deaths in North Carolina, New Jersey and Oregon, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Federal prosecutors announced in October nine indictments related to the investigation, including for Chinese national Jian Zhang. He has been sanctioned as a significant narcotics trafficker under the Kingpin Act by the U.S., the first time an alleged fentanyl trafficker has received the designation, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters during a visit last month in Fargo.

Gomes, whose nickname was "Ant," was among the list of defendants indicted in October. He could face life in prison, but the plea agreement he signed April 9 calls for a shorter sentence.

In addition to his guilty pleas, Gomes also agreed to forfeit more than $220,000 in money and property, including $162,836 in cash, assorted jewelry valued at $64,725, a 2017 ATV and a 2007 Maserati Quattroporte luxury sedan.

He will be sentenced on Aug. 6.

Before the October announcement, a dozen others were indicted on charges related to the investigation—nine in North Dakota and three in Oregon. Ten have been sentenced, while another has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Daniel Vivas Ceron, the alleged leader of the drug operation, is set to go to trial Sept. 11.

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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