Crookston man charged with several drug crimes, could face life in prison

Times Report
Crookston Times

    A Crookston man faces four controlled substance related charges that could add up to life in prison if he’s convicted.

    After a year-long investigation, Cipriano “Chip” Mello, 27, has been charged with aggravated controlled substance crime in the first degree, conspiracy to commit a controlled substance crime in the first degree and two counts of controlled substance sale crimes in the first degree.

    According to court documents, on December 23, 2019, a Crookston police officer met with a cooperating individual (CI) who stated they had been told by an identified person that they were getting large quantities of methamphetamine from Cipriano Mello. On January 14, 2020, the officer met with the CI again and they stated they found out that Mello had recently obtained one pound of methamphetamine.

    Later, on July 7, 2020, a Crookston police officer saw Mello driving a pickup truck in Crookston and the officer knew that Mello’s driver’s license had been cancelled as inimical to public safety so he stopped the pickup truck and spoke to Mello. While doing so, the officer noted that Mello’s eyes were bloodshot and watery, his pupils were dilated, he was nervous and would not maintain eye contact with the officer. The officer also noted that Mello had “cotton mouth”, was talking fast and was hard to understand leading the officer to believe, upon his training and experience, that these were common signs of illegal drug use.

    The officer then asked Mello to perform several field sobriety tests and was able to conclude that Mello was under the influence of a controlled substance. Mello was placed under arrest and transported to the Northwest Regional Corrections Center where a warrant was obtained for a blood or urine sample from Mello. Mello’s urine sample was sent to the MBCA Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis and it revealed the presence of benzoylecgonine (a metabolite of cocaine), said court documents. As a result, Mello was charged with felony first-degree driving while impaired, gross misdemeanor driving after cancellation and gross misdemeanor violation of a restricted driver’s license.

    In other investigations that later relate back to Mello, on June 7, 2020, Grand Forks police stopped a car being driven by Christopher James Giauque, 53, and could smell the odor of marijuana coming from inside the car. After a search of the vehicle, officers found three marijuana “blunts” in the center console cup holder, a .38 caliber snub-nose revolver in the center console, a THC vape pen cartridge under the driver’s seat, a baggie containing some suspected marijuana, two mason jars containing suspected marijuana, and a digital weight scale in a cooler on the passenger side floorboard. The suspected marijuana weighed approximately 280 grams in total and, as a result, Giauque was convicted for felony possession with intent to manufacture/deliver marijuana and misdemeanor possession of a schedule I hallucinogenic.

    According to court documents, 13 days later, on June 20, 2020, East Grand Forks police stopped a car being driven by Giauque within 300 feet of Sherlock Park in East Grand Forks (previously driven within one city block of EGF Senior High School) and officers discovered a digital weight scale and a plastic baggie containing a white crystal-like substance in the center console. An analysis of the substance later revealed more than 15 grams of substance containing methamphetamine. During an interview, Giauque stated that all the items in the car belonged to him, he had sold meth to several people in Grand Forks, normally selling one-half to one ounce of meth per weekend; he purchased all of his meth from a guy named “Nate” who lived in Alvarado and worked at Tri-Steel in Grand Forks, he purchased a total of four to five ounces from “Nate” over the past eight months usually purchasing from “Nate” while “Nate” was at work at Tri-Steel, and that “Nate” charged him $1,000 to $1,200  for an ounce of meth which Giauque would then resell for $250 per “8-ball” (one-eighth of an ounce or approx. 3.5 grams.)

    Giauque also admitted to obtaining marijuana from “Nate” and THC cartridges which he would resell. A urine sample from Giauque revealed the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamine, benzoylecgonine, and a metabolite of THC (marijuana.) Giauque also consented to a search of his cellular telephone which showed text messages exchanged with “Nate” where Giauque asked to purchase drugs. Court documents showed the text messages used code phrases like, “I need a z of /“, “Trying to get the z load later”, and “I got kosher kush and flo.” On June 22, 2020, Giauque’s cell phone got a text from “Nate” saying, “My buddy got some lbs I’m gona check em out give me a holler Yo.”

    Based upon additional investigation, an EGF police officer was able to identify “Nate” as Nathan Terrance Brickzin. An earlier Times story published on October 7, 2020 detailed Brickzin’s arrest and charges as well as others involved in the related investigation. New information reveals, on September 21, 2020, a Grand Forks Narcotics task force officer was conducting surveillance in Alvarado and saw Brickzin and a female going into and out of a storage unit with Brickzin holding a black “Pelican” type case. The officer later contacted the owner of East Grand Storage, Ron Vasek, who stated that the storage unit had been rented by Brickzin in 2016 and that Brickzin had been behind on his rental payments but got caught up in June 2020.

    On June 22, 2020, a Grand Forks Narcotics officer searched a car that Jayson Daniel Hurst, 51, was driving by Hugo’s and discovered two baggies containing a crystal-like substance suspect to meth that Hurst said he purchased from “Andrew” at Tri-Steel in Grand Forks. As a result, Hurst was charged with felony possession with intent to manufacture/deliver methamphetamine and felony unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. After additional investigation, “Andrew” was identified as Andrew James Caskins.

    During the September 2020 investigation of Brickzin and Wade Allen Cordts, officers recovered suspected methamphetamine and oxycodone hydrochloride pills, and officers discovered a series of text messages on Cordts’ cell phone exchanged with “Chip” that talked about “a new battery” and said they were “6.5 volts short” and later said they were in need of a “zipper” (common street term for one ounce.”

    According to court documents, on October 6, 2020, Cordts stated that “Chip” was Cipriano Mello and he met Mello in a bar one time and Mello stated he could get pounds of methamphetamine. Cordts told officer the first time he received meth from Mello was shortly after July 4, 2020 when he received one ounce. Text messages from Brickzin in August 2020 revealed he found a “cheaper” source for meth and they did not purchase meth from Mello at that time, but later purchased one ounce of meth from Mello on August 25, 2020. Brickzin allegedly told Cordts the meth was short about six grams and Brickzin reportedly met with Mello later.

    Cordts allegedly told officers that a “typical deal” would be for Brickzin to call or text Cordts, Cordts would then reach out to Mello and the for the deal to take place, “zipper” was code for one ounce and “walking the dog” was code for him and Mello to meet up. Officers reviewed calls from Brickzin made from the NWRCC to L.M. and Brickzin reportedly stated that he sold two ounces and that he would “narc” on Cordts who “was the one getting stuff for him.” Brickzin also told L.M. to get the keys to his apartment and to get the “beef jerky” and “Pop Tarts” which allegedly held $10,000 in cash and methamphetamine.

    When officers arrested Brickzin on October 9, 2020 on an amended complaint warrant, Brickzin was allegedly “upset” that he was unable to help officers because his source was already in jail.