How ND Overdose Death Led to Chinese Fentanyl Probe

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Bailey Henke, 18, died of a fentanyl overdose in 2015 in North Dakota. A federal investigation into Bailey’s death tracked the fatal dose higher and higher up the distribution chain. The case quickly expanded beyond North Dakota, across state lines and federal agencies and into Canada. Federal prosecutor Chris Myers in North Dakota stepped in to coordinate. The New York Times Magazine tells how Drug Enforcement Administration agent Mike Buemi tried to determine how an envelope of acetyl fentanyl had made its way from China to South Florida. He stumbled onto a major criminal organization. At its head appeared to be Jason Berry, coordinating the importation of huge quantities of drugs into the U.S. via Canada, from Chinese chemical companies. “It was an astronomical amount of drugs coming in from China,” Buemi says — fentanyl chief among them.

In 2017, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that Zhang Jian and eight North American co-conspirators, including Berry, were indicted in North Dakota. Zhang was charged in the death of four people, including Bailey Henke, and the serious injury of five more. The investigation that began the night of Henke’s death is continuing. There have been 32 individuals indicted and more than 70 arrests, and seizures of over 1,000 kilograms of drugs as well as assets and currency worth $1.5 million. Zhang Jian was found to be the source of narcotics for eight other federal investigations. Buemi says that, “At a strategic level, as an agent we can only do so much. We need our leadership talking to [Chinese] leadership to stop these chemicals from being manufactured.”

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