An ongoing investigation of trafficking in the North Slope Borough has led to the seizure of multiple shipments of alcohol and illegal drugs, police said Monday.
The six separate cases are expected to be forwarded to prosecutors. Authorities said such seizures are just a small take in a region affected by rampant substance abuse, so it's crucial to get the word out that law enforcement officers are watching.
"It deters the conduct," said Brian Sullivan, an assistant district attorney based in Anchorage.
With huge profits to be made, traffickers can be extremely creative. For example, one case Sullivan's office handled involved cocaine and marijuana hidden in potato chip bags whose edges were opened and then glued shut.
The latest seizures were made between April 11 and Thursday.
Two involve possible felony charges, including one case where 4 pounds of marijuana being shipped to Barrow were intercepted by borough police and U.S. Postal Service inspectors. Police say the street value of the marijuana is estimated at $120,000.
Another possible felony interception involved marijuana being shipped from Anchorage to Point Lay. Other cases involved illegal trafficking of alcohol to Barrow and Wainwright, where marijuana also was shipped.
Borough Police Chief Leon Boyea said bootlegged alcohol and illegal drugs sell for a huge markup in the region. A single bottle of spirits can fetch $200 in a village where alcohol sales are not allowed.
Barrow, a town of almost 4,500, is the regional hub where the borough government offices are based. The nation's northernmost town is considered "damp," which means the possession of alcohol is allowed, but not the sales.
It has a distribution center for shipments to residents who are allowed to possess alcohol. Eligible residents also can bring small quantities of alcohol in luggage and can ship monthly allotments of alcohol to themselves through the distribution center in clearly labeled packages.
Selling any amount of alcohol is illegal. It's a constant process to intercept packages mailed to other places beside the distribution center or to someone else, Boyea said.
The borough has an officer assigned to work with postal inspectors at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, as well as with airport police there. The borough gets some tips from the public, but mostly it's good police work that leads to traffickers, Boyea said.
"We know who the players are," he said. "We've developed the intel."