Two Fairbanks Drug Dealers Sentenced to Federal Prison
FAIRBANKS – A Fairbanks man was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline to more than eight years (97 months) in federal prison followed by four years of supervised release for the possession of heroin and fentanyl with the intent distribute those drugs.
According to court documents, Michael Miller, 35, aka “Smiles,” and his co-defendant Araka Taylor, 37, were indicted in October 2020 on multiple drug charges. In March 2021, Miller and Taylor pleaded guilty to trafficking heroin and fentanyl in the Fairbanks area. In a separate hearing, Taylor was sentenced to more than five years (65 months) in federal prison followed by four years of supervised release.
In May 2020 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Alaska State Troopers (AST) began an investigation into the illegal distribution of narcotics in the Fairbanks area by an individual named “Smiles” who reportedly sold heroin that had caused multiple accidental overdoses. As part of the investigation, law enforcement purchased heroin from Miller through a confidential source on three separate occasions between May 27 and June 5, 2020. Laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of fentanyl in all of the heroin the defendant sold to the confidential source. The buyer requested only heroin from Miller – at no time did the buyer request fentanyl nor did Miller tell the buyer that the heroin contained fentanyl.
Miller was arrested on July 9, 2020 at his Fairbanks residence. Taylor fled back to her home state of Florida where she was later arrested by federal law enforcement. While executing the search warrant at the Fairbanks residence, law enforcement found more than $32,000 cash, 315.8 grams of heroin containing fentanyl, 100.5 grams of heroin, 4.1 grams of fentanyl transdermal patches, as well as drug ledgers, scales and other drug dealing paraphernalia.
After AST arrested Miller on July 9, 2020, reports of heroin overdoses declined substantially in the Fairbanks area. Specifically, in the three months prior to Miller and Taylor’s arrest (April 10, 2020 – July 10, 2020), the DEA Fairbanks Post received seven reports of drug overdoses – a dramatic increase for Fairbanks. By contrast in the nearly three months after Miller’s arrest and Taylor’s departure from Alaska, DEA Fairbanks received only one overdose report. Data recently released by the CDC reveals that over 92,000 people died last year as a result of drug overdoses in the United States which is a nearly 30 percent increase – the largest drug related deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. Sixty-one percent of the overdose deaths nationwide involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Fentanyl is approved by the FDA for treating pain, typically in advanced cancer patients, that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“Offenses involving fentanyl have increased at an alarming rate in recent years across the U.S. and in Alaska,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bryan Wilson, District of Alaska. “This case demonstrates the serious threat people face with fentanyl now being commonly hidden in a variety of illicit narcotics. Drug traffickers are on notice – we are committed to going after individuals who push fentanyl laced narcotics within our communities. We are determined to reduce the number of opioid overdoses in Alaska.”
“Saving lives and keeping our communities safe are top priorities of the Drug Enforcement Administration,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino. “This undercover investigation revealed these defendants were responsible for the distribution of heroin tainted with potentially deadly fentanyl. Investigations like this one illustrates the commitment and sense of urgency the men and women of DEA routinely demonstrate as they carry out their mission of enforcing the federal narcotic laws of the United States. We must continue to focus our valuable resources and leverage our much needed and well established partnerships with the United States Attorney’s Office and local, state, county and federal law enforcement agencies to stem the tide of the systemic and widespread abuse of opioids in our communities.”
“This sentencing exemplifies the commitment of Alaska’s law enforcement to getting illegal drugs off our streets and holding accountable those that are responsible,” said Lieutenant Michael Roberts, Deputy Commander of D Detachment, Alaska State Troopers. “These two were preying on our community and profiting off the sale of fentanyl laced heroin that was directly linked to multiple overdoses. Alaska State Troopers along with our local, state and federal partners will continue to work diligently to dismantle illegal drug operations in the interior and throughout the state.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Alaska State Troopers, Fairbanks Police Department and the North Pole Police Department investigated this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Tansey prosecuted the case.
This case is part of Alaska’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). HIDTA was established in 2018 to enhance and coordinate efforts among local state and federal law enforcement agencies, providing equipment, technology and additional resources to combat drug trafficking and its harmful consequences in critical regions of Alaska.