19 Alaskans charged in drug-trafficking bust

OXYCODONE: Feds say money was laundered in Las Vegas.

November 5, 2010 

Nineteen Alaskans were part of a drug trafficking ring that peddled thousands of powerful prescription painkiller pills in Alaska communities and that laundered more than $1.2 million through a Las Vegas motorcycle shop, according to federal court documents unsealed Friday. Busting the drug ring netted a total of 27 people in Alaska and Las Vegas, where the operation was headquartered, according to federal authorities, and where the drugs originated. Federal documents list charges for money laundering and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone.

A 26-year-old Las Vegas custom motorcycle detailer, Nicholas Ghafouria, ran the operation, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas said in the court papers.

The organization "is acquiring thousands of tablets of oxycodone in Las Vegas, Nev., and distributing the oxycodone to various cities in Alaska," according to the documents.

The website for Ghafouria's bike shop boasts that it is "home of some of the most outrageous and stunning paint work you will ever see" and features photos of an exhibition of its bikes at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Ghafouria controlled four of the nine bank accounts used to launder the drug proceeds, including one in his name and three under the name "Alley Rat," according to the documents. An associate in Las Vegas, Scott Thompson, maintained three of the bank accounts under the name of Stealth Boys -- perhaps drawn from the video game "Fallout New Vegas" -- while two other Nevada associates, Taylor Hill and Andrey Ariza, each had one account.

Ghafouria described Thompson as his "money man" who kept about 5 percent of the deposits made from Alaska.

The drugs would be moved north and sold here. Alaskans -- most of those charged live on the Kenai Peninsula -- would deposit thousands of dollars a month in illegal proceeds into the Las Vegas accounts, according to the documents. The money would wind up with Ghafouria.

The complaint said that two Las Vegas women, Ki Yong Parker, 55, and Demetha L. Jackson, 44, obtained prescriptions for the oxycodone that wound up in Alaska.

The complaint named two Alaska mother-daughter teams as among the conspirators. Frankie Dupuis of Soldotna was accused of money laundering for the group and selling oxycodone in Soldotna. Her mother is accused of depositing about $50,000 in drug proceeds into two of the Stealth Boys accounts in May and June, phoning her daughter from the bank to get the correct account numbers.

Cinthia Morgan Spoonts of Soldotna was accused of trafficking the Las Vegas pills and laundering about $30,000 in March and April. Her mother, Shannon Walker, also of Soldotna, was accused of depositing about $5,000 in illegal drug proceeds in March.

The markup was huge. According to the complaint, Ghafouria told a confidential source that he bought 80 milligram oxycodone pills in Las Vegas for $20 to $30 a pill, then sold them in Alaska for up to $85.

"Ghafouria stated he only sells pills in Alaska because he can make so much more than if Ghafouria sold the pills in Las Vegas," the complaint said.

Ghafouria was pulled over in Cooper Landing by an Alaska State Trooper in 2009 while driving with an invalid Nevada license and with marijuana and oxycodone in his car, according to the documents. Ghafouria wasn't charged or ticketed because he had a medical marijuana card from California and prescriptions in his name for the drugs.

Then in February, a package sent via FedEx from Nevada to Alaska to one of Ghafouria's suspected co-conspirators was intercepted after a drug dog indicated narcotics inside. A detective armed with a search warrant found the pills hidden in cheap children's toys inside the heavily taped box, according to the complaint.

John Covich, 29, of Kenai has been accused in the case of selling oxycodone and money laundering, depositing more than $50,000 into the Stealth Boys Las Vegas accounts through the Soldotna Wells Fargo between April and July. Public records show Covich's full name, age and address match those of the grandson of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, a family member Stevens has said he had visited in jail.

Investigators saw Covich and Dupuis enter a bank to make a deposit into one of the accounts. In June, Covich sent a text message to the wrong phone number, saying "Hey I got blue 30s for 40," indicating he was trying to sell 30-milligram tablets for $40 apiece.

The person who received the text walked into the Kenai Police Department and reported the suspicious message.

According to documents, between July 24, 2009, and Oct. 2, 2010, more than $1.2 million in alleged drug sale money was deposited into nine accounts controlled by the group at Wells Fargo branches on the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Nevada.

The lead investigator, IRS Special Agent Christian Mickelsen of Las Vegas, said the case was investigated by a Drug Enforcement Administration task force in Nevada with assistance by police in Kenai and Soldotna and the Alaska State Troopers.

Though oxycodone abuse was first centered in Appalachia, Mickelsen said, Las Vegas has become a major source of illegal pills.

Many of the people charged had prior arrests for crimes of violence, the complaint says.

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