October 30, 2017 11:50 PM
A professor at the University of Minnesota was one of at least 10 people who died last year from fentanyl-related overdoses linked by federal authorities to a suspected online dealer who targeted thousands of potential customers nationwide from his apartment in Hopkins.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has confirmed that the professor – identified in court records only as "V-2" – was Dr. Jason Beddow. He was found dead in his office on the St. Paul campus in April 2016.
Beddow died due to an "elevated level of fentanyl," according to records kept by the Minnesota Department of Health. Investigators determined Beddow received the fentanyl from a now-defunct web operation called PlantFoodUSA.net.
Authorities say Aaron Broussard used that website as a way to sell and distribute illegal drugs. He is charged with distribution of fentanyl resulting in death.
Broussard was arrested in Minnesota last December but has since been extradited to Pennsylvania. He faces up to life in prison.
"As of now, we are reviewing the evidence with the focus of building a defense strategy to present to the jury," said Bernie Brown, Broussard's attorney. "There are certainly questions of fact contained in the evidence we have been provided that we would like to explore further before making any final decision on a potential resolution in this matter."
Broussard is accused of intentionally or recklessly distributing lethal doses to customers who "died … within minutes after ingesting the drugs," according to court documents.
Thomas Hellenhorst, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Minnesota, said "one can hardly imagine a more serious drug crime." Authorities say that Beddow and the nine other victims across the country had ordered less dangerous drugs but received fentanyl instead.
Fentanyl has been increasingly marketed as other drugs such as heroin or prescription pills, according to the 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment issued last week by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Ken Solek, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA's Minnesota office, says the powerful drug is "laced in just about any narcotic you can imagine."
"Whether it be cocaine, heroin," Solek said. "I've actually heard reports of fentanyl being laced in marijuana."
Todd McNew, a former classmate of Beddow's at Virgina Tech University, says "this had to have been something that (Beddow) didn't realize he was taking."
McNew described Beddow as "brilliant," if not a "mathematical genius."
Beddow joined the Department of Applied Economics at the U of M in 2013 and conducted "cutting-edge research in food security," according to an obituary.
His family declined to be interviewed.
"If I was going to put together a list of people who I thought might succumb to something (like) this, I would never have had Jason on that list," McNew said during a recent interview at his Florida home.
Beddow's death was one of 91 fentanyl-related deaths in Minnesota last year -- more than double the number from 2015, according to MDH records.
The increased death rate mirrors a rise in the amount of man-made fentanyl being shipped to the United States.
In 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized just 2 pounds of the drug at mail inspection sites nationwide. That number skyrocketed to 1,100 pounds of the drug confiscated in 2016.
Aaron Broussard received "numerous shipments of drugs from international sources," according to court records.
The deadly dose of fentanyl that was delivered from Broussard's apartment in Hopkins to Beddow's campus office in St. Paul was likely first shipped through Chicago's O'Hare International Airport -- the customs inspection site nearest the Twin Cities.
"(Fentanyl) is our number one priority in the mail branch," said Officer Matthew Davies, of customs and border protection.
Earlier this month during a routine shift, Davies' team confiscated a package that contained enough fentanyl to kill hundreds – if not thousands – of people.
"I don't think it would be honest for me to say that we are able to catch everything," Davies said.
Joe Augustine and Ryan Raiche
Updated: October 30, 2017 11:50 PM
Created: October 30, 2017 05:42 PM
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