Judges set bail for alleged heroin dealers

Seven Rice County residents accused of dealing heroin are awaiting second hearings after arraignments at Rice County District Court on Monday morning.

Some arraignments occurred in courtroom 2, where Judge Thomas Neuville presided, and some in courtroom 3, where Judge Bernard E. Borene presided. The judges set bail of varying amounts for each of the defendants.

Alexander Bruce Benson, 19, of 300 Aster Dr., Northfield, is facing two charges of aiding and/or abetting in the sale of heroin on Sept. 29 near Greenvale Apartments on Greenvale Avenue, which is a public housing zone, and one charge of aiding and/or abetting the sale of heroin.

The apartment complex was home to Jillian Marie Wetzel, 25, who authorities determined died of an accidental heroin overdose on Aug. 23. Wetzel’s death by overdose was the most recent of five of such fatalities to occur in Northfield in the past year and a half.

Photo by Benjamin Haynor Caption: Rice County District Court on Oct. 27, 2008

Benson allegedly sold 0.8 grams of heroin for $200 to a “confidential reliable informant” working with the members of the Rice County Drug Task Force on Sept. 24 in the parking lots of the Subway restaurant and the Country Inn off State Highway 3, according to a “statement of probable cause” filed in district court.

Neuville set Benson’s next hearing date at Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. in district court. The maximum sentence for aiding/abetting a heroin sale in a public housing zone is 25 years in prison and/or a $500,000 fine. Aiding/abetting the sale of heroin could bring a sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a$250,000 fine. Neuville set Benson’s bail at $10,000 with a list of conditions or $50,000 without conditions.

Lucas Patrick Benson, 19, of 404 Harrison Ave., Edina, is facing a charge of aiding/abetting in the sale of heroin and a charge of obtaining heroin. Benson allegedly drove another of the defendants in a 2006 Jeep Cherokee to a police-arranged heroin buy on Oct. 19.

Neuville set Benson’s next hearing date for Nov. 4. He set Benson’s bail at $2,500 with conditions and $5,000 without conditions. Obtaining heroin can bring a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Jacob Andrew DeMann, 21, of 601 Railway St. South, Dundas is facing one charge of aiding and/or abetting in the sale of heroin and a charge of aiding and/or abetting a plan to obtain heroin.

The charges refer to DeMann’s actions on Sept. 29, when police arranged for an informant to buy heroin in Northfield from a person who allegedly rode as a passenger in a 2004 Pontiac DeMann was driving.

DeMann “admitted that the transaction did indeed occur in his vehicle and that he has given Defendant Peterson rides in exchange for heroin,” members of the task force wrote in the statement of probable cause.

Neuville set DeMann’s hearing date on November 4 at 1:30 p.m. The judge set bail at $5,000 with conditions or $10,000 without conditions. The maximum sentencing of Bail Bonds in Phoenix, AZ for aiding and/or abetting in the sale of heroin is 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. For aiding/abetting a plan to sell, the sentence could be 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

John Blaze Frank, 21, of 423 3rd St. Northwest, Faribault, is facing two charges of selling heroin on Sept. 29 near Greenvale Apartments, and four counts of selling heroin on Sept. 16.

Police working with the Rice County Drug Task Force used an informant to buy heroin from Frank five times between Sept. 16 and Sept. 29, according to the statement of probable cause. The informant/s allegedly bought 3.5 grams of “high-quality” packaged heroin and .3 grams of cocaine total from Frank using $800 in pre-recorded government buy funds, according to the statement.

Neuville set Frank’s next hearing date on November 4 at 1:30 p.m. The judge set bail at $30,000 with conditions or $50,000 without conditions.

John Shelby Hanks, 21, of 10500 295th St. West, Northfield is facing a charge of aiding/abetting in the sale of heroin on Sept. 25. to a police informant. Hanks allegedly told police he “would drive Defendant Frank to the Cities in exchange for heroin,” according to the statement of purpose. Borene continued Hanks’ case to Nov. 11 at 1:30 p.m. and set his bail at $5,000 with conditions and $50,000 without.

Travis Roy Peterson, 19, a Northfield resident who could not give a specific address to the judge, is facing one first degree charge of selling heroin, two second degree charges of selling and one count of possessing heroin. Peterson, according to the drug task force’s statement of purpose, is allegedly the largest heroin dealer in Northfield. Peterson allegedly sold the task force informant 22.2 grams of heroin for $5,600 between Sept. 11 and Oct. 24., according to the statement.

Neuville set Peterson’s bail at $100,000 with conditions or $200,000 without. He set his next hearing for Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m.

Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit, 18, of 27 Oak St., Farmington, is facing one first-degree charge of selling heroin, one second degree charge of selling and one charge of possessing heroin. Borene set her next hearing date for Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. and set bail at $5,000 with conditions or $50,000 without conditions.

Benjamin Haynor contributed to this report.

Above: Statement of probable cause for John Blaze Frank, Alexander Bruce Benson, John Shelby Hanks.

Above: Statement of probable cause for Travis Roy Peterson, Jacob Andrew DeMann, Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit, Lucas Patrick Benson.

Update 10/28 11 a.m.: Jim Haas, who posted a comment on this story, told me I incorrectly wrote the judges “posted bail” when the correct terminology is “set bail.” I corrected the term in the article.

Update 10/28 1:30 p.m.: The district court released defendant DeMann on bail on Monday.

Update 10/29 9 a.m.: After doing some online research, it seems the court documents contained a spelling error in Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit’s name. I’ve corrected it in the article.

Update 10/31 12 p.m.: The courts also released defendants Stopke-Huisentruit and Lucas Benson on bail early this week.

Update 10/31 7 p.m.: I saw five of seven arraignment hearings in Rice County District Court on Monday morning and the following were my observations of the defendants.

Judge Thomas Neuville saw Travis Roy Peterson first in Courtroom 3 just after 11 a.m.

That courtroom, unlike another I visited later that day, is designed in a way that hides the defendant behind one of the room’s supporting beams. Peterson stood in a wooden, boxed-in area and occasionally peered out around the beam to see the prosecuting attorney and the members of the audience behind him. Otherwise, the defendant’s image was projected onto a few television monitors around the room for easier observation.

Peterson, like every defendant, wore an orange jumpsuit and orange handcuffs. He appeared unshaven, but more or less emotionally composed. Neuville asked Peterson if he wanted him to appoint a public defender, or if Peterson planned to hire a private attorney. Peterson intermittently chewed his bottom lip while the judge spoke.

“Well, how much would that cost?” Peterson asked the judge, regarding the fees of a private attorney.

The judge replied that each lawyer charges something different.

Peterson said he wanted an idea of the cost so he could begin saving money to pay a private attorney, if he needed to.

The judge asked Peterson for his address. Peterson said he didn’t know, but pointed to a person in the courtroom audience and said that person would know. That man said Peterson lived in Dakota County, but did not know the specific address.

During the discussion of setting the terms of Peterson’s release, the prosecuting attorney highlighted the reasons why a jury could one day find Peterson guilty of heroin-related crimes. He told the judge he believed Peterson is a threat to others and to himself.

The attorney read a portion of a police “statement of probable cause” that said Peterson could have been selling about $1,000 a day worth of heroin. At that, Peterson raised his eyebrows in a way that seemed to indicate skepticism.

When the judge set Peterson’s bail at $100,000 with conditions, Peterson had his head lowered into his hands.

Neuville saw Lucas Patrick Benson next. When Benson first spoke to answer the judge’s questions, he leaned in toward a small microphone at the stand. He appeared to have a private attorney, since a representative sat at a desk beside the prisoner’s box and spoke for him on a few occasions. Benson appeared clean-shaven and wore a white T-shirt beneath his orange jumper.

The judge said he would change one of the charges against Benson to include the words “subsequent offense” because Benson had been serving a probationary sentence on another, separate drug charge. The prosecuting attorney said Benson presented a danger to others and himself. Benson did not look at the attorney while he spoke. Benson’s attorney argued the opposite of the prosecutor, emphasizing that Benson could likely begin working a job if released.

Neuville saw John Blaze Frank next. Frank also appeared unshaven. The judge pointed out Frank was serving probation on another charge.

“You look familiar,” the judge told Frank.

Frank seemed to agree, saying he had recently been to court because he had violated the terms of his probation.

The judge asked Frank his preference for an attorney.

“Yeah, if I could get a public defender, that’s be great,” he told the judge.

The judge said it appeared Frank was eligible, since his income was below poverty level.

After the prosecuting attorney requested the judge to set a certain bail amount, the judge asked Frank if he had anything to say about the amount.

“I don’t have any money so I’m not going to make bail anyway,” Frank replied.

The other arraignments happened in Courtroom 2. I made it inside to catch Patience Carol Stopke-Huisentruit’s hearing.

Stopke-Huisentruit, beneath a stylish haircut, appeared composed while she waited her turn before Judge Bernard Borene. The courtroom was designed in a way that made in easy to see everyone in the room. Stopke-Huisentruit sat legs crossed, her white tube socks showing beneath orange shackles and brown plastic flip-flops.

The prosecuting attorney told the judge Stopke-Huisentruit had prior convictions, was a danger to others, and might have even overdosed on heroin in the recent past, according to the police’s statement of probable cause, and so could be a danger to herself.

The judge asked if Stopke-Huisentruit’s parents wanted to speak. Her mother Joni of Farmington and her father Duane of Northfield sat together in the audience. Her father got up to sit beside Stopke-Huisentruit and talk to the judge.

“This is our baby-girl, Patience,” Duane Huisentruit said.

He told the judge Patience has been in treatment for her drug addiction in the past.

“We are still in the process of supporting this girl. We’re still at her side,” he said.

“I agree with what he just said,” Patience said when her father finished speaking.

She told the judge the treatment and probationary sentence helped her to stay clean. She tried “really, really hard to stay clean,” once probation ended, she said, but then began “struggling a little bit.”

“I’m really thankful my parents are here,” she said. “Oh yeah,” she added, “With the overdose thing, I really don’t think I overdosed.”

Update 11/3 9:30 a.m.:

Rice County Heroin Bust Press Conference 10/27/08 from Ben Haynor on Vimeo

Here is the full-length video, thanks to Ben Haynor! For shorter edited version see https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/6154/

Update 11/3 9:45 a.m.: At the prompting of a reader, I called Dr. Charles Reznikoff at Northfield Hospital and Clinics who has been treating heroin addicts since administrators hired him to do the job two months ago. Dr. Reznikoff said he has not, to his knowledge, noticed a change in his workload following the arrests of the alleged heroin dealers last week. As per usual, however, he said he continues to see new patients nearly every day. He would not disclose specific numbers about patients, but he said he is certified to have no more than 100 of them.

Update 11/4 5:45 p.m.: A judge scheduled third hearing dates for defendants Peterson and Frank today and denied Peterson’s request for a reduction in bail, according to a clerk at the Rice County District Court. Meanwhile, the courts rescheduled second hearing dates for defendants Lucas Benson and DeMann. Peterson is scheduled to next appear in court on Nov. 12 at 1:30 p.m. as is Benson; Frank, Nov. 19 at 1:30; DeMann, Nov. 25 at 1:30.

Update 11/14 2:15 p.m.: On Monday, a judge scheduled a fourth hearing for Peterson and a third hearing for Lucas Benson for Dec. 10 at 1:30 p.m. A judge also saw defendant Hanks on Monday and scheduled his third hearing for Nov. 26 at 1:30 p.m.

Update 11/19 4:15 p.m.: Judge Bernard E. Borene continued John Blaze Frank’s case to Dec. 16 at 10 a.m.

Update 12/02 3 p.m.: District court judges set omnibus hearings for three more of the defendants. Jacob DeMann is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 14 at 1:30 p.m. and John Shelby Hanks and Patience Stopke-Huisentruit are scheduled to appear Dec. 17 at 1:30.

Update 12/11 3 p.m: Carol Weissenborn, Travis Peterson’s public defender, asked to continue Peterson’s omnibus hearing to another date. Peterson is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 10 at 1:30 p.m.


  1. Patrick Enders said:

    I don’t believe 30% is a believable figure for death from overdose. Therefore, either they were not counting a much larger number of non-‘regular’ users, or they were just citing flawed data.

    Ben’s answer seems to clarify where the Strib got it wrong.

    November 1, 2008
  2. Jane Moline said:

    I believe the 200 to 250 number that Gary Smith was using came from an estimate made by a Hazelden employee who was basing it on their method of estimating the problem. I can’t remember if it was a multiple of 10 or 15 or 20, but they said that the number of users seeking treatment were a subset of the number abusing; based on the number of heroin addicts seeking treatment at Hazelden, they estimated that there were 200 to 250 users in Northfield.

    I do not know the statistics on “casual” users, although I understand that some people do try heroin and do not become addicted, while others may become addicted the first time they use. Why one person becomes addicted and others don’t (or at least not until they have used repeatedly), I can’t tell you.

    It makes sense that those going through treatment are at a higher risk of overdosing. If they have not been using for a while or they are trying to overcome the blocking drugs that they are taking for treatment, they would be more likely to overdose. Also, they may be in a more fragile state where they are less afraid of dying than of missing out on getting high. I would think drug addicts are more likely to be depressed, as well, which can lead to carelessness in preserving your own life.

    And, they are taking an unregulated drug with unknown purity cut with an unknown substance. They really would not be able to accurately dose themselves. Maybe 30% is low for (non-fatal) overdoses.

    November 1, 2008
  3. Scott Oney said:

    Patrick: The 30% figure was yours. At first it seemed high to me, but I found a source that would offer you some support. Again, I’m not sure what pool you’re talking about, and now I can’t tell what you think would be a likely percentage. It would help if you could supply some refs.

    Jane: You raised a good point when you said,

    I would think drug addicts are more likely to be depressed, as well, which can lead to carelessness in preserving your own life.

    Beyond that, overdoses aren’t always accidental. Here’s something from one source (http://www.springerlink.com/content/b567140712415586/):

    The study involved interviews, with 256 heroin overdose survivors successfully resuscitated by Melbourne Ambulance Service paramedics. A substantial minority (17%) of the sample indicated that they had ever had an intentional overdose, and 67% had one within the last 6 months (11% of the total sample). Of those who had ever intentionally overdosed, 21% did so at the overdose for which they were recruited into the study (4% of total sample). . . . Intentional overdose appears to comprise a relatively low proportion of overall heroin overdoses. However, given the complexity of suicidal thought and behavior, it is possible that some heroin overdose survivors who report their overdose to be unintentional were in fact experiencing some degree of suicidal thinking at the time of the overdose.

    (NOTE: This quote is from the abstract of the paper, and one number seems wrong. The 67% must refer to a portion of those ever having an intentional overdose; as written, it looks like 67% of the whole sample, but interpreted the way I suggest, the other numbers come out right.)

    November 1, 2008
  4. Bonnie Obremski said:

    Hello folks, just posted an update and included a video of the full-length press conference, which Ben Haynor uploaded to Vimeo.com. (Thanks Ben!) The video includes the question and answer regarding how many people Peterson could have hypothetically supplied.

    November 3, 2008
  5. Cady said:

    I struggle with this tragedy for so many reasons.

    Some seem to think that so many are out for “blood” with these drug addicts/dealers. Although I don’t believe that to be a true statement, I do agree with being angry, yet satisfied that the ball has started to roll and things are being done.

    I have used a different name to not only protect myself, but to also protect my family. We have been on the side of the drug addicts. We have been through the treatment program with one of our children. And, we have experienced the pain, heartache and the feeling of complete disbelief – that this could happen to one of ours. One person in particular that is named with the accused had befriended my child many years ago. He introduced marijuana first, and then as time passed, and my child was able to steal enough money from his parents, the bigger and “better” drugs came into the picture.

    Being naive was my biggest downfall. I never thought for a second that I would ever have to worry about my children and drugs. I never thought for a second that everything that I tried to teach them had gone in one ear and out the other. However, as time passed, and all the signs were missed, the violence started. The stealing was first, the physical violence was next. The scars on my face – as a mother, are there as a constant reminder to my son everyday.

    Why are so many looking for compassion? I find it very hard to be compassionate to these “kids” when they knew full well what they were doing. Should the public now be responsible to get them the treatment they need? I’ve paid my dues many times over and at this point in my life, am not willing to help those who have continually hurt my family.

    It sounds harsh doesn’t it? I’m angry. Very, very angry, and I’d give anything to stand in that courtroom and tell the judge just exactly what I went through at the hands of one of the accused.

    My child is now clean and has been for the past two years. However, not a day goes by when I don’t go back to the day of the intervention, and the words that my child said to me…. “Mom, I used to lie in bed at night and try to think of ways to kill you without getting caught.” That, my friends, is a very, very hard thing to live with.

    All of them should be held accountable for their actions and all deserve jail time – to sit and think about what changes need to be made in their own lives. That time would also give them the opportunity to figure out the right words to say to their loved ones who take the brunt of it on the outside.

    November 4, 2008
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for sharing your painful story, Cady.

    (Moderator’s note to others: we’ve approved this anonymous comment because the author confirmed their identity via email and we agree with their rationale for wanting to remain anonymous. We’re attempting to do this with other anonymous comment submissions, too.)

    November 4, 2008
  7. Arlen Malecha said:

    Cady –

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think many Northfielder’s, like myself, don’t know what to feel (anger, compassion, disgust, etc) or how to help or if that is even possible.

    I pray that you and your family are / will soon be whole again.

    November 4, 2008
  8. Bonnie Obremski said:

    I posted what happened in court today in an update at the bottom of my original post. Two of the defendants attended their second hearings this afternoon.

    November 4, 2008
  9. Anon said:

    I knew most of those who were arrested personally. Many of those people were friends of mine at some point in my life. [alleged dealer] was, to some, a scary person on the outside. Sure, he could make threats and do all that, but he wasn’t the type of person to follow through. [alleged dealer], like anyone else, is scared. I’ve seen him on several occasions nearly in tears over having a gun pulled on him, or people threatening his own life. Regardless, he continued to exploit those in need of his products, just to live his life. He was making the best with what he had, just like the rest of us. Some of you may criticize me for sympathizing with him, but I’ve been in his shoes, I know what its like. Even though at times I’ve hated him to death, I still can relate to him. Fuck, the majority of the last three months I would have loved to never see him again (Just not under these circumstances). A number of my friends had been clean off dope for a number of months, and when [alleged dealer] returned after the death of a close friend it only took a couple minutes for him to get them back on it.

    [alleged dealer] has had a number of chances to turn his life around. He’s been to treatment and jail numerous times, and none of those experiences seemed to do much. Getting arrested may very well be the best thing that ever happened to this man. His incarceration can go one of two ways though. He can either realize that he needs to change and get into the proper CD programming in whatever facility he is being held, OR he can just continue along, making more connections like a number of those imprisoned do.

    I feel like this has just been one long, completely pointless rant… But also, before I forget. The juvenile who was arrested in connection with the heroin “ring” had absolutely NOTHING to do with heroin. I know for a fact he has never touched heroin in his life, much less sold it. I find it ridiculous that our Rice County Drug Task Force has somehow gotten this fucked up.

    At any rate, I hope that those involved will see where their actions and thinking have gotten them. It may take them a long time to finally get clean, some may never. Statistics are against them. When I was in treatment for the first time they told us only 10% of all addicts are able to recover, which meant only one or two of us in my group would maintain, at some point in life, long term recovery. Even though the odds are against them, there’s always a chance they can get clean. I’m only 18 and have spent nearly two full years of my life in outpatient/inpatient facilities. Thanks to that though, I have finally managed to stay clean. I will still be praying for each and every one of them.

    Sorry for the disjointedness and umm… overall lack of structure or coherence. It’s 3:30 in the morning and I need some sleep and of just been typing this as it comes to my head.


    November 5, 2008
  10. Patrick Enders said:

    Thank you for sharing your very moving, personal, and heartfelt story and perspective. I wish you strength and success in your personal journey.

    November 5, 2008
  11. Curt Benson said:

    Anon, Northfield’s opiate problem seems to be somewhat unique. What do think happened that got this trend going? What could have Northfield done differently? Also, what do you think should be done locally to help people recover from addiction? What can be done to prevent young people from starting down the road of opiate addiction?

    Good luck to you and thanks for sharing your story.

    November 5, 2008
  12. disenchanted said:

    As a parent of a Northfield adolescent who became involved with drugs & went to treatment & continued to struggle who has chosen NOT to come back to Northfield I have one comment: LOCK ‘EM UP, give them treatment if you feel a moral responsibility, BUT DON’T LET THEM BACK ON THE STREET.

    I have seen too many families & parent-teen relationships destroyed, & I’m ANGRY. And I am going to stay angry till the law deals with these “pushers”. There are too many weak-kneed treatment programs that don’t do anything but cost lots of money. We give teens “rights” so parents have almost none. It took a judge to get my teen into treatment & I think that is the way most teens get there. We give our kids too much & too many have lost their way.

    November 6, 2008
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Evidently there were some court hearings this week (Monday) on the accused. Anyone have details? And what’s the best way for a citizen to keep track on an ongoing basis?

    November 12, 2008
  14. I’m calling the Rice County District Court in Faribault today to check up. They don’t open until 12:30 on Fridays, but other weekdays they’re open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Their number is (507) 332-6107. You can call and ask for a person to give you the status of a defendant if you have their full name.

    November 14, 2008
  15. Scott Oney said:

    Griff and Bonnie: The only way you can really find out anything is to go down to the courthouse and sit through the hearings. Two of the defendants had their Rule 8 hearings last Wednesday, 11/12/08. Some surprising, if not shocking, details might have emerged that day, but I haven’t seen them covered on LG.

    Bonnie: If you call the courthouse, I don’t think they can tell you much more than if they’ve got ’em or not, and their next court date.

    November 14, 2008
  16. Ben Haynor, the person I’ve been collaborating with on this story, attended the hearings and told me not much happened. I’m calling the courts in order to get the results of the hearings and the next court dates.

    November 14, 2008
  17. Ben Haynor said:

    In court on Wednesday, they merely set Peterson’s next court date. Peterson’s omnibus hearing is set for 1:30 PM on December 10.

    November 14, 2008
  18. Scott Oney said:

    Ben: I thought I noticed you coming in late, after Lucas B.’s Rule 8 hearing. He has a default omnibus hearing set for Dec. 10 at 1:30 also.

    November 14, 2008
  19. Thank you Scott and Ben for providing that information. John Shelby Hanks also had a hearing on Monday. The judge set Hanks’ third hearing date for Nov. 26 at 1:30 p.m.

    November 14, 2008
  20. Judge Bernard E. Borene continued John Blaze Frank’s case to Dec. 16 at 10 a.m.

    I double-teamed with Josh Rowan, my fiance, at court today. Josh went to Frank’s hearing while I sat in on the Mayor’s at the same time. Josh said Frank appeared calm. (Judge Warren E. Litynski scheduled Mayor Joseph Lee Lansing’s second hearing for Dec. 17 at 1:30 p.m.)

    November 19, 2008
  21. District court judges set omnibus hearings for three more of the defendants. Jacob DeMann is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 14 at 1:30 p.m. and John Shelby Hanks and Patience Stopke-Huisentruit are scheduled to appear Dec. 17 at 1:30.

    December 2, 2008
  22. Carol Weissenborn, Travis Peterson’s public defender, asked to continue Peterson’s omnibus hearing to another date. Peterson is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 10 at 1:30 p.m.

    December 11, 2008

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