Workplace pill swapping leads to felony charge

A Duluth man accused of selling fentanyl pills to a co-worker made his initial court appearance.

Douglas County Courthouse, Superior, Wisconsin.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — Phone messages between two co-workers prompted a felony drug charge against one after the other was found dead of an overdose.

Justin Arthur Ward, 43, of Duluth, faces one count of conspiracy to commit deliver fentanyl in Douglas County Circuit Court. He made his initial appearance Friday, May 12. A $10,000 signature bond was set for Ward, and he was ordered not to possess or use a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia without a valid prescription.

A man Ward worked with in Superior was found dead at a residence in Silver Bay, Minnesota. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was the toxic effects of fentanyl and methamphetamine, according to the criminal complaint. Lake County Sheriff's Office Detective Christian Van Goertz forensically analyzed the man’s phone and discovered a substantial amount of drug-related activity.

Ward was one of the people who the victim communicated with about drugs, according to the complaint. The message history between the two reportedly spans from November 2021 until three days before the victim died in April 2022. The alleged drug exchanges involved the victim supplying “pinks,” the slang term for pink oxycodone pills, to Ward, and Ward supplying “blues” or “blue guys,” which refers to fentanyl in blue pill form, to the victim.

When interviewed by Von Goertz in September, Ward reportedly admitted that he sold drugs to the victim and acknowledged they would essentially share pills. It was normal for drug exchanges to occur at their Superior workplace, Ward told the detective, and the deals were frequently arranged by text. They would put pills and cash in each others’ work lockers to be collected later, Ward told the detective. He would also leave pills in a cigarette pack in the victim’s truck at work.


Ward told the detective that when the victim was looking for pills, he would send a message to a woman who would text another person for pills. Ward would then get the pills from the woman and sell them to the victim.

The class E felony carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. Ward’s next court appearance was set for May 24.

This story was updated at 1 p.m. May 16 to correct Ward's age according to Wisconsin Circuit Court Access and at 12:01 p.m. May 16 to clarify that the victim was found at a residence in Silver Bay. It was originally posted at 9 a.m. May 16. The Telegram regrets the errors.

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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