ROGERS, N.D. — Tammy Sadek's favorite spot to sit is outside on her blue rocking chair, watching the shoreline of Lake Ashtabula where there's a small fort built years ago by her son Andrew.
"It just really brings me peace to sit and look at it," she said on a sunny afternoon as her husband John was mowing with their dog Thunder following his every move.
The farm and family-owned resort are the Sadeks' slice of heaven. One day, it was all going to be Andrew's.
But in 2014, the Sadeks' 20-year-old son went missing, and the couple endured two months of hell until he was finally found. "I prayed every night for him to be found," his mother said. "I just didn't want that outcome."
Five years ago on June 27, Andrew Sadek's body was discovered along the Red River near Breckenridge, Minn., not far from where he was attending the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.
Andrew disappeared after agreeing to work with police as a confidential informant — a deal he made to avoid felony charges for allegedly selling $80 worth of marijuana to informants on campus. He was found with a gunshot wound to his head and a backpack full of rocks tied around him.
How Andrew died remains a mystery. An autopsy did not determine whether his death was suicide or homicide, and investigators said early on they didn't suspect foul play. But his parents believe Andrew did not kill himself — especially when they all endured the pain of losing Andrew's only brother and their first son, Nick.
Tammy Sadek said it's coming up on the 14th anniversary of Nick's death. He was 18 years old when he and his girlfriend were struck and killed by a train on their way to the Sadek farm July 22, 2005. At the time, Andrew was 11 years old.
"It was hard for him. Andrew was actually the last one in our family to see Nick," she said.
The grieving mother responded by forming a railroad safety group that succeeded in adding safety features to three crossings. After Andrew died, she fought for reforms on how young informants are used in North Dakota, advocating for what's now known as Andrew's Law.
"It's kind of what I do, I guess. Focus my anger into something else," she said. "There's not a lot of stuff in life that is fair. But we are blessed. And we will see our boys again. I know we will."
The brothers' ashes are together in a decorative box in the family's living room. Locks of their hair rest on top.
Tammy Sadek said in Nick's case, he didn't see the train coming and didn't suffer. But she doesn't believe the same is true for Andrew. "I think that he suffered, and I want him to be at peace," she said.
That's why the Sadeks are still fighting for justice five years later. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2016 that was dismissed May 20. The family plans to appeal the judge's decision to the North Dakota Supreme Court.
The lawsuit named Richland County and Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Weber, an agent for the Southeast Multi-County Agency Narcotics Task Force. It accused Weber of negligence, fraud and deceit in recruiting Andrew, who, according to his parents, was misled into becoming an informant.
Authorities said Andrew sold a total of 3.3 grams of marijuana to confidential informants working for the task force in April 2013. The task force later searched Andrew's dorm room and reported finding a grinder with some marijuana residue.
On his 20th birthday, Nov. 22, 2013, he met with Weber to go over working as an informant. A video recording of the meeting shows Weber telling him the marijuana sales were felonies carrying a maximum combined sentence of 40 years in prison. Working as an informant could help reduce charges to misdemeanors, Weber told Andrew.
Andrew completed three undercover buys of marijuana from two different people and was expected to do more, but he stopped contacting the task force and disappeared.
In an interview this week, Weber told The Forum his work with informants has “decreased a little bit” since Andrew's death and the passage of Andrew's Law. The law requires new training for officers on the use of informants and a new written agreement that outlines an informant's rights to speak with legal counsel and to cease working as an informant at anytime. Neither were part of the contract Andrew signed.
“Some of the paperwork has changed to let them know they have the right to an attorney," Weber said. "But as far as the use of them, nothing really has changed.”
NDSCS is still within the task force’s jurisdiction, Weber said. In a statement sent to The Forum, NDSCS said the college cannot legally intervene or deny the task force access to campus.
"NDSCS has been — and will continue to be — supportive of reducing illegal activities on our campus," the statement said. "We maintain a strong collaborative relationship with local and regional law enforcement agencies to support that goal, however we start with awareness and encouragement for the adoption of safe, healthy practices among all of our students."
Weber wouldn’t comment on whether he would do anything differently in Sadek’s case, or if he would describe informant work as dangerous because “that goes into what our pending litigation is."
“There’s two sides to every story, and since this is a pending investigation, we're not able to release a lot of details on our side," he said. "So I think a lot of people are getting a one-sided story."
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, introduced Andrew's Law to the North Dakota Legislature. He believes informants should only be used in very specific circumstances, if at all, because there isn't proof of less drugs in the state because of informants.
Becker said he doesn't agree with using youth as informants and sending them deeper into the world of illicit drugs. "It's indicative of the wasted energy, money and lives on the war on drugs," he said.
Becker thinks Andrew's Law is a good step, he said, even though law enforcement was "successful in watering it down."
One facet of the law limits campus police from entering into informant agreements with students. It also creates repercussions for officers who don't follow the guidelines.
'Where's the weapon?'
Law enforcement never mentioned Andrew's informant work to his parents until after they held a news conference on the NDSCS campus May 5, 2014. That day Richland County also issued a warrant for Andrew's arrest.
Tammy and John Sadek publicly made tearful pleas for their son to return home. It wasn't until later that day they learned of Andrew's work as an informant.
His mother said she doesn't think officials will ever solve the case because they don't care. She doesn't think law enforcement ever took the disappearance and death of her son seriously because he was labeled a drug dealer. But to her, Andrew was more than that.
He was an avid outdoorsman, learning to kneeboard when he was 4 years old, always fishing, hunting or helping out on the farm. He had a promising career as an electrician, having enrolled at NDSCS because of a scholarship he earned at the state skills competition. He also had his own herd of cattle to help pay for his tuition.
Jill Oliveira, a spokeswoman with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said the investigation into Andrew's death is still open and active. The agency, which is working on the case in partnership with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, has asked the FBI to review the case file "to provide a fresh set of eyes on the investigation to date," Oliveira said in an email to The Forum.
Andrew was two weeks shy of graduating and at the top of his electrical technology class when he went missing.
"He was looking forward to graduating. He was actually going to go back for a third year to get a robotics minor," his mother said. "He had the world, as far as we knew. He wasn't being treated for depression. There was no note."
She said investigators lack evidence to prove her son's death was suicide. The gun used has never been found.
"They told us right away it was a suicide, and I'm like, really? Then where's the weapon? And the fact that the coroner did not label it as suicide, he labeled it undetermined," she said, adding that it's "the easy way out" for officials to treat it as a suicide rather than a homicide.
A .22-caliber bullet was found lodged in Andrew's head after being in the water for nearly two months, she said.
The Sadeks noticed they were missing a .22-caliber handgun after investigators inquired with them about it. His parents believe Andrew took the gun in self-defense on his last visit to the farm days before he went missing. And they think it was used by someone else against him.
"Who knows what predator he wanted to protect himself from," she said.
The family's attorney, Tim O'Keeffe, said he intends to file an appeal of the wrongful death suit by mid-July.
"We just don't have any clear answer as to what exactly happened to Andrew," he said. "We're not giving up. We keep moving forward and hopefully we'll get there some day."
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