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News Release
November 7, 2002

For More Information Contact:
ASAC Zoran Yankovich
907-271-5033

OPERATION ARTIC HEAT
44 Persons Charged in Largest Drug Bust in Alaskan History

Anchorage, Alaska --Today, Special Agent in Charge John M. Bott, Seattle Field Division, and United States Attorney Timothy Burgess announced that the largest investigation of illegal drug trafficking in Alaska's history was concluded today with the indictment of 44 defendants in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

Four indictments were returned by the federal grand jury charging a total of 44 defendants with counts including conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession and distribution of cocaine, possession of firearms in connection with narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and possession of counterfeit currency.

"This investigation demonstrates that there are large amounts of drug being sent to Alaska. Drug trafficking breeds violence and ruins lives. We are determined to stop the flow of cocaine and crack into Alaska," Mr. Burgess said. "We are equally determined to ensure that those responsible for trafficking these drugs will be brought to justice."

This Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation resulted in drug seizures in Alaska and other states of more than 100 kilograms of cocaine and over $1 million in cash. A kilogram is approximately 2.2 pounds.

Over a half-million dollars was identified as being transferred by defendants from Alaska to various locations by the use of both Western Union wire transfers and account deposits at Wells Fargo Bank, according to the indictment. Most of these funds were sent either to the Dominican Republic and/or California.

The most complex indictment charges 36 defendants with drug trafficking between Southern California, Alaska, and New York for nearly six years. The 36-defendant indictment details

numerous instances where couriers were used to fly cocaine into Alaska and fly money out of Alaska. Among the successful drug interdiction efforts outlined in the indictment are:

1) The seizure of approximately 10 kilos of cocaine on October 2, 1999 from a defendant who was on his way to Anchorage but was stopped at the Cincinnati airport.

2) The seizure of 13 kilograms of cocaine in the Salt Lake City airport from two couriers destined for Anchorage in November 2000.

3) The seizure of approximately 12 kilos of cocaine on August 2, 2001 from two couriers at an airport in California while enroute to Anchorage.

4) The interception of over 4 kilos of cocaine in San Juan, Puerto Rico on February 1, 2001 from two men whose final flight destination was Anchorage.

5) The interception of a courier with nearly $147,000 in cash at the Anchorage airport on September 26, 2001.

6) The seizure of nearly $340,000 in cash from three individuals who were flying from Anchorage to the Dominican Republic on November 24, 2001.

7) The seizure of two kilograms of cocaine from a courier at the Fairbanks airport on January 12, 2002.

8) The seizure of 29 kilograms of cocaine concealed in a vehicle bound for Alaska near the Port of Seattle on May 26, 2002.

9) The seizure of $30,000 in cash hidden in "Old Spice" deodorant sticks from the luggage of a passenger at the Anchorage airport on April 1, 2002.

10) The seizure of a handgun, a kilo of cocaine, and $35,000 in counterfeit U.S. currency from a man in Anchorage on August 5, 2002, involved in an altercation over the allegation that someone had paid for cocaine with the worthless bills.

11) Numerous sales of cocaine to undercover agents, including amounts up to one kilogram at a time, including numerous sales of "crack" or cocaine base.

The financial transactions charged as money laundering violations include the interception of $91,000 from a courier in Anchorage in June 2002, and dozens of wire and bank transactions involving the transmission of hundreds of thousands of dollars to allegedly purchase more drugs for shipment to Alaska or to transfer profits from drug sales to the Dominican Republic. Many of the defendants are of Dominican nationality.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Zoran B.Yankovich, of the Drug Enforcement Administration Anchorage District Office said, "This successful investigation underscores the degree of drug trafficking presence in our state; it also demonstrates that interstate and international drug traffickers cannot and will not be allowed to act with impunity in Alaska."

Robert Burnham, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Alaska, said, "This is by far the largest investigation of drug trafficking in Alaska. The success of this case is due entirely to the cooperative efforts of alI the participating federal, state and local law enforcement agencies."

Three other drug cases stemming from the investigation were also indicted. These three indictments charge a total of eight additional defendants with numerous sales of cocaine to undercover agents, as well as conspiracies to transport cocaine to Alaska and distribute it.

The defendants named in the 36-defendant indictment include: Vincente Zapata, Jose Manuel Zapata, Manuel Zapata, Marcelo Zapata, Erix Zapata, Constantino Zapata, Santiago Crucey, Juan Crucey, Maximo Crucey, Agapito Crucey, Eladio Crucey, Luz Torres, Carlos Cruz, Juan Carlos Gomez, Kirk Godfrey, Franklin Humm, Suheil Garcia, Claribel Garcia, Martina Hernandez, Felicia Garcia, Candelario Peralta, Jorge Mercado-Ortiz, Victor Rodriguez, Jr., Norberto Agudelo, Celeste Johnson, Richard Sosa, Salma Sosa, Tomas Moquete III, Pedro Rosario, Kemper Lara-Sosa, Santo Batista, Darrel Poindexter, Selvin Ramos, Jessabel Ramos, Milagros Mateo, and Gregoria Mateo.

The defendants named in the three separate indictments include: Edgar Contreras, Marcos Bisono, Ricardo Cruzagosto, Melido Antonio Infante-Christophers, Altagracia Esther Perdomo, Julio Reyes, Nayade Perez, and Paino Manuel Alvarez-Perdomo.

Many of the defendants face sentences of up to life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, as charged in the indictment. Many also face mandatory minimum sentences of five to ten years' imprisonment if convicted of distribution of a certain amount of cocaine or possession of a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking offense.

The cases were investigated by a number of agencies working closely over many months, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS, the Anchorage Police Department, the Alaska State Troopers, the Anchorage Airport Police Department, the U.S. Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service. Investigators were assisted by the Alaska Army National Guard Counterdrug Support Program.

Mr. Burgess praised the investigative agencies, stating their effort and tenacity were outstanding. "This investigation required exhaustive work for months on end. It involved local, state and federal law enforcement. The dedication displayed by the investigators was very commendable. Alaska is in their debt."

The cases will be prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim R. Lindquist, Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Barkeley and Thomas C. Bradley, and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Gregory Gordon.

This investigation continues in other venues where related cases will be simultaneously taken down in Los Angeles and New York with a number of additional suspects being arrested. Over the past two years DEA in concert with other law enforcement agencies nationwide has made over thirty arrests of suspects associated with this conspiracy who were transporting cocaine to Alaska, or distributed large sums of cash derived from Alaska cocaine sales to other areas of the United States. In relation to broader aspects of this investigation, DEA has arrested suspects and made independent criminal cases in Los Angeles, Riverside and Palm Springs (California); Salt Lake City, Utah; Chicago, Illinois; Colby, Kansas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Grand Junction, Colorado; Miami, Florida; Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio, Kansas City, Missouri and New York.

Investigation continues.

# # #

Charges are merely accusations; and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial or a plea of guilty is accepted by the Court.

 

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