International Marijuana Trafficking Ring Indicted
APR 24--ANCHORAGE, AK + A joint state and federal task force investigation resulted in the arrest of six men on international marijuana trafficking charges, Acting U.S. Attorney Deborah Smith announced today. The ring was responsible for importing and trafficking at least $10 million worth of marijuana during the past five years, according to a recent federal indictment.
Six Anchorage men were arrested Saturday for conspiracy to import marijuana from Canada and conspiracy in relation to marijuana trafficking after conspirators allegedly imported and transported a load of marijuana, or “B.C. Bud,” from British Columbia. Also on Saturday, eleven search warrants were executed at nine different locations in Anchorage, Smith said. Approximately 308 pounds of marijuana were seized pursuant to the search warrants, along with $90,000 in cash, quantities of gold bullion, and 14 firearms, including a machine gun, according to Assistant Special Agent in Charge Harvey Goehring. Over 30 vehicles, including a dragster, that were allegedly purchased with the profits of the marijuana trafficking were also seized, according to Alaska State Trooper Director Col. Julia Grimes.
“This investigation was begun in April 2005 by the Alaska State Troopers and the Internal Revenue Service, and ultimately involved more than eight local and federal law enforcement agencies in Alaska and Canada. This investigation shows an unparalleled degree of cooperation between federal, state and local authorities,” Smith said.
“Today marijuana is not only big business, it is also bad business for all Alaskans,” said Attorney General David Marquez. “This potent drug is readily available to kids and throughout rural Alaska in greater amounts. It arrests the mental development of its users, causes physiological harm when used for extensive periods of time and it is increasingly a factor in crimes committed in Alaska” Marquez added.
The federal Grand Jury in Anchorage indicted Thomas P. Ranes, 31, Nopenon Dennis Shine, 42, Dylan N. Bales, 28, Curtis H. McDonald, 50, Kevin A. Browning, 29, and Robert H. McDonald, 29 for conspiracy to import marijuana and conspiracy in relation to marijuana trafficking last Wednesday. The Grand Jury also indicted Ranes, Bales, and Browning for money laundering and indicted Ranes for international money laundering to the Ukraine. The indictment seeks criminal forfeiture of property allegedly used to conduct the crimes and property purchased with the money earned from the criminal conduct, including two parcels of real property in Anchorage, seventeen vehicles, six trailers, and several pieces of heavy equipment. The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment later today.
According to the indictment, beginning May 21, 2000, the defendants, along with others, conspired to import over 1000 kilograms (approximately 2,200 pounds) of marijuana to Alaska from British Columbia, Canada. The conspirators periodically arranged for the shipment of approximately 200 to 500 pounds of marijuana (also known as “BC Bud”), as well as quantities of MDMA (also known as ecstasy), from British Columbia to Anchorage. The indictment states that the defendants concealed the marijuana, ecstasy, and cash in secret compartments on vehicles the conspirators drove between Alaska and British Columbia. The indictment alleges that defendants Curtis McDonald, Robert McDonald and Browning drove the vehicles.
Col. Grimes noted that “the Alaska State Troopers have invested heavily in revitalizing our Major Offenders Unit. We believe in the concept and the team’s ability to find major criminal enterprises distributing illegal drugs and alcohol wherever they are in the state. Whether it’s Anchorage or Bethel, we intend to find them. Today we see the return on our investment and I’m very proud of my troopers as well as all of the devoted investigators that worked on the case. Our partnership with DEA, the US Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies ensured that the operation would be comprehensive and successful. For that we extend out thanks.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Rodney G. Benson of the Seattle Field Division commented that “this is an outstanding example of how DEA uses its resources to go after the largest international drug trafficking organizations. The cooperation needed in this case required multiple international, federal, and state and local agencies to coordinate their investigative efforts. The results of this cooperation ensured a successful outcome in this case.”
Ranes was responsible for organizing and coordinating the shipments of marijuana and cash between Alaska and British Columbia, according to the indictment. The indictment also charges that together with other conspirators, Ranes laundered the money made from the ring’s marijuana business by depositing it into the accounts of an Anchorage welding and automotive repair business, Ranes & Shine, LLC. The conspirators delivered the marijuana and divided it for sale at the welding shop or warehouses owned or rented by the conspirators.
The conspiracy generated in excess of $10 million in gross drug proceeds, according to the indictment. The profits were used to pay for future shipments of marijuana from Canada and to invest in real estate in Alaska and in the Ukraine. “IRS Criminal Investigation Division agents traced suspected profits from the marijuana smuggling operation to the purchase of various high-priced assets, including race cars, boats, real estate” noted IRS Supervisory Special Agent Terry Zeznock. In addition, Ranes, sometimes with Bales and Browning, deposited cash profits in excess of $1.3 million in various Anchorage banks according to the indictment. Ranes also used wire transfers to send marijuana profits from Alaska to the Ukraine according to the indictment. The investigation is continuing, Smith said.
The maximum penalties for conspiracy to import marijuana and for conspiracy in relation to drug trafficking are a minimum of 10 years in prison and maximum of life in prison, a $4 million fine, and at least four years of supervised release. The maximum penalties for money laundering and international money laundering are 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.
This case was investigated by the Alaska State Troopers, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Anchorage Police Department. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachments in Whitehorse and Vancouver provided assistance. The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office, with the assistance of the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office.The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.