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Volunteer investigator was key figure dismantling Mexican cartel in North Dakota

May 22, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Volunteer investigator was key figure dismantling Mexican cartel in North Dakota

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After over 70 convictions, authorities in North Dakota revealed that they’ve largely dismantled a violent Mexican-based drug cartel in a probe that involved hundreds of agents over the course of a dozen years. However, no investigator may have had more to do with the case’s success than one attorney-turned lawman who did almost all free labor.

Brad Berg helped link a drug dealer from Mexico who set up shop in North Dakota to the Arellano Felix cartel and several of the organization’s key leaders.

Now that the case is mostly closed, except for Juan Francisco Sillas-Rocha, an accused high-level hit man who is opposing extradition to the U.S., Berg is gaining praise from his colleagues in the wake of records becoming unsealed in the case.

Berg took on much of the arduous research in the massive drug conspiracy being tried in federal court. He spent weeks at a time in California, working with agents, interviewing suspects, and examining horrific crime scenes.

Agents in San Diego quickly found that Berg’s special knowledge of the drug ring was priceless, according to California Department of Justice agent Steve Duncan.

Berg, pictured left, and the other two agents from California worked together on a drug conspiracy case that led to leaders in a violent Mexican cartel.

“He was telling us stuff we didn’t know. He opened doors and led us to a new group of people,” Duncan told the Associated Press. “We couldn’t believe how organized he was. He had access to all information, all the reports. He had spreadsheets. He had credibility.”

What Duncan was not aware of was that Berg worked for free from the beginning of his law enforcement career in 1995 until he retired in 2013. Berg calculated that he donated over 25,000 hours to drug enforcement that would likely approach $1 million in pay and benefits.

“It becomes an obsession,” Berg said of his work. “Not always a welcome one.”

Law enforcement was the last of several ventures for Berg, who has been a farm equipment dealer, real estate broker, farmer and finally attorney — the job he enjoyed the least.

He gave it up to spend more time with his wife and kids. Then he went looking for charitable work and went into law enforcement.

Juan Francisco Sillas-Rocha, a high-level lieutenant for the Arellano-Felix cartel is fighting extradition to North Dakota

Now retired, the 65-year-old Berg launched his final career as a volunteer in the Cass County sheriff’s reserve program and was named commander of the group. At 51, he attended the police academy and joined the West Fargo department. He said he got invaluable experience executing arrest warrants, which taught him how to locate suspects and develop a rapport with criminals, and was given the nickname “Rainman” for his incredible memory and his ability to solve complex riddles.

“He’s terribly intelligent. Almost autistic,” former West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen stated.

James Fontaine, a California prosecutor, praised Berg’s skills during a hearing in the Arellano Felix case. Fontaine indicated that Berg read daily law enforcement bulletins describing activities of cartels, including each day’s homicides, major arrests, and other activities. Fontaine noted that Berg would also tirelessly translate crime articles from Mexican publications.

Berg’s work on the case started in 2005 when he was recommended to join a Drug Enforcement Administration task force.

The task force was in the midst of a federal probe called Operation Speed Racer when Jorge “Sneaky” Arandas, who moved from Tijuana to the Red River Valley to sell drugs, ordered the murder of a Minnesota man over payment for 5 pounds of meth.

Jorge “Sneaky” Arandas, the leader of a sprawling drugs-and-murder ring authorities have dubbed “Operation Speed Racer,” was sentenced in 2014 to 40 years in prison for importing drugs to the Red River Valley.

As one of the head investigators, Berg helped track the hit to the Arellano Felix gang and started working with agents in San Diego.

Berg attempted to retire in 2009, but it lasted less than a year. Drug investigators called him back near the end of the drug war between the Arellano Felix cartel and the Sinaloa cartel.

Additionally, Berg served as an expert witness in the case against three members of the Arellano Felix cartel accused in a failed murder-for-hire plot. While on the stand in 2011, Berg reeled off the names of lieutenants in the cartel, including aliases such as El Nalgon, Cotorro, Chollo, El Pit, El Gus, El Teo and Five-Four.

Berg then conducted training for officers investigating drug trafficking and wrote a report titled “A Short History of the Arellano-Felix Organization.”

Berg said he currently spends most of his time making furniture, researching and drafting his family history, and spending as much time as possible with his grandchildren. He’s agreed to return to Fargo if Juan Francisco Sillas-Rocha, goes to trial.

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