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Press Release

U.S. Attorney’s Office Announces S.A.F.F.E.R. Initiative to Confront Violent Crime in the Fargo Area

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of North Dakota

FARGO – Joined by federal and local law enforcement partners, United States Attorney Mac Schneider today announced an office initiative, Strategic Assistance for Fargo through Federal Enforcement and Resources (S.A.F.F.E.R.), aimed at aggressively confronting violent crime in the Fargo area through the application of federal resources and prosecutions.
          “This initiative is all about using new federal resources as a force multiplier to assist our local law enforcement partners in targeting the relatively few individuals who drive violent crime in Fargo and Cass County,” Schneider said. “With a forceful prosecution strategy that is focused on felons in possession of firearms and dismantling gangs and other criminal organizations before they take root in the community, we can help keep the Fargo area safe as it continues to grow. Being a safe community is special, and it should not be taken for granted.”
          The announcement of the initiative, which is already underway, comes on the heels of statistics showing an approximate 45% increase in violent crime in Fargo since 2019. To assist local law enforcement as they work on the front lines of public safety to address violent crime in the Fargo area, the S.A.F.F.E.R. initiative has a three-part focus:
          1) Using local intelligence information and federal resources to identify, investigate, and prosecute the individuals responsible for violent crime:
          The placement of National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) equipment in Fargo, together with ongoing intelligence-led policing and information sharing by local law enforcement, will allow the United States Attorney’s Office and its partners to precisely target the drivers of violent crime in the community.
          As first announced during a visit to Fargo last year by Steven Dettelbach, the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Fargo Police Department will soon receive NIBIN equipment that will allow for the analysis of spent shell casings recovered from shooting incidents. NIBIN is a database of digital images that law enforcement agencies use to compare ballistic evidence from crime scenes and firearms to find investigative leads on an interstate basis. The ATF oversees the program, provides the equipment, and maintains the network of interconnected computer systems and terminals.
          When utilizing NIBIN, firearms examiners or technicians enter cartridge casing evidence into the system, allowing law enforcement to search against evidence from their jurisdiction, neighboring ones, and others across the country. As noted by Director Dettelbach in his 2023 visit to Fargo, the network was used several years ago to help solve a drive-by shooting in the community.
          In-house access to NIBIN equipment will dovetail with the efforts of the Metro Street Crimes Unit and FPD’s Intelligence and Analysis Unit, which identify and interdict individuals committing violent crimes in the Fargo area, as well as the Cass County Sheriff’s Office’s Threat Assessment Threat Management Team, which aims to divert individuals before violent acts occur.
          2) Relentlessly prosecuting felons in possession of firearms, straw purchasers, and those who possess illegal weapons:
          As a key part of the effort to assist local partners in addressing violent crime in the Fargo area, the United States Attorney’s Office will utilize new prosecutorial resources and recently-enacted federal statutes to forcefully prosecute felons in possession of firearms, straw purchasers, and those who possess illegal weapons like machinegun conversion devices.
          Last year, the United States Attorney’s Office was successful in securing an additional Assistant United States Attorney for the purpose of prosecuting violent crime cases in eastern North Dakota. That position, which was filled by AUSA Jake Rodenbiker, is in addition to several career prosecutors who routinely prosecute violent crime cases in the Fargo area and beyond. Those additional prosecutorial resources provide the office with the capacity to vigorously bring prosecutions under the felon in possession statute as well as federal laws enacted as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, including 18 U.S.C. § 932, which prohibits the straw purchasing of firearms.
          The office will also continue to prioritize prosecutions of those who possess illegal firearms. Schneider highlighted a recent case, United States v. Opdahl, in which a Fargo man was found guilty of possession of a machinegun and an unregistered silencer after a three-day trial in April. The defendant, Patrick Opdahl, was previously involved in a standoff with the Fargo Police Department and Red River Valley Regional SWAT team in February of 2023.
3) Confronting gangs and organized criminals before they take hold in the community:
          The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also utilizing new prosecutorial resources from the Department of Justice to disrupt gangs and criminal groups before they put down roots in the Fargo area. Earlier this year, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Fargo Police Department began working with the Department’s Violent Crime and Racketeering Section (VCRS), which has assigned a trial attorney to work with the United States Attorney’s Office in Fargo and its local partners to bring cases against organized criminal groups operating in the community. Kim Dammers, the Principal Deputy of VCRS, also recently provided in-person training to the office’s career AUSAs and their law enforcement partners on the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR) statute. Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rody, who oversees VCRS, joined the office in the announcement, discussing VCRS’ role in the initiative.
          “Today’s launch of the S.A.F.F.E.R. initiative is a pivotal moment for Fargo,” Fargo Chief of Police Dave Zibolski said. “With the additional federal resources and support, we are better equipped to target and reduce violent crime in our community. This partnership underscores our commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of all Fargo residents. By combining local efforts with federal expertise and technology, we can create a safer environment for everyone and proactively address the challenges we face.”
          “The Cass County Sheriff’s Office is excited to collaborate with the US Attorney’s Office and other federal partners to reduce criminal activity and, more importantly, violent activity in our communities,” said Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner. “Taking a multifaceted approach, utilizing available resources, and concentrating those efforts on local, state, and federal levels will have a profound impact. The launch of the SAFFER Initiative will provide the necessary tools and partnerships needed to bring justice to our citizens and victims while holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”
          “Our office looks forward to continued partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Fargo-area law enforcement on this initiative,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Travis Riddle of the St. Paul Field Division. “These federal tools have helped advance federal firearms cases across the country and will help make an impact in the violent crime experienced here locally. We appreciate U.S. Attorney Schneider’s forward-leaning approach to violent crime with this initiative, and we look forward to working collectively to ensure the area’s violent offenders remain accountable for their actions.”
          “The DEA stands ready to assist our fellow law enforcement partners in Fargo,” Drug Enforcement Administration Omaha Division Special Agent in Charge Steven T. Bell said. “History has shown that drug trafficking and violent crime work in tandem and we are committed to joining forces and utilizing our arsenal of resources to push back against those looking to cause harm in our communities.”
          “The FBI is steadfast in its commitment to reducing violent crime and enhancing community safety,” said Special Agent in Charge Alvin M. Winston Sr. of FBI Minneapolis. “Together with our local law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of North Dakota, we are dedicated to fostering environments where residents can live, work, and play without fear. Our joint efforts aim to build stronger, more secure communities.”
          Schneider also highlighted several recent cases as examples of the office’s efforts to aggressively utilize new federal resources to bring prosecutions aimed at reducing violent crime in the Fargo area:
          United States v. Berry: An indictment unsealed on June 3, 2024, alleges that Marvin Berry, Jr. possessed a Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol despite having been previously convicted of seven drug-related felonies in North Dakota state court from 2016 to 2023. The indictment also charges Berry with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
          United States v. Gray et al.: An indictment unsealed last month alleges that defendants Markell Gray, Janelle Jackson, and Robert Leake knowingly possessed firearms as convicted felons. The indictment also charges possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. As noted in court filings, Gray was previously convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance in state court in Cass County in July of 2023.
          United States v. Jellah, et al.: As noted in court documents, Leo Jellah, a.k.a. “Chapo,” was charged via indictment with alleged conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute a controlled substance and money laundering. Public records indicate that in 2023, Jellah pled guilty to robbery in North Dakota state court under section 12.1-22-01(1) of the North Dakota Century Code, which makes it a felony to menace or inflict serious bodily injury in the course of committing a theft.

          An indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.



Terry W. Van Horn  701-297-7400

Updated June 5, 2024

Violent Crime