Drug shipment bust nets more than 3 pounds of heroin bound for Alaska

Casey Grove

Two Alaska men are jailed for allegedly having more than three pounds of heroin mailed to them from California inside a safe, according to charges filed in federal court.

A postal inspector noticed something suspicious about the package on its way from Manteca, Calif., to Houston, Alaska, and executed a search warrant in Anchorage Oct. 23. It's unclear from the charging document filed later against Baretta Faatafuga and James Gwaltney what tipped off the inspector or how the safe was opened, but according to the charges 3 pounds, 9 ounces of hard brown heroin was inside, wrapped in plastic bags and tape.

According to Anchorage police, an ounce of heroin typically goes for about $4,000 dealer-to-dealer and $375 per gram on the street. That puts the value of the heroin seized in the Faatafuga-Gwaltney case between $228,000 and $606,000, depending on how it was to be sold.

Faatafuga and Gwaltney, both 37, are charged with attempted possession of heroin with the intent to distribute it.

The investigators turned their attention on the two men after putting fake drugs in the safe, repackaging it with an electronic device and spray that would show them who opened it, and having an undercover inspector posing as a mail carrier deliver the package to the Houston address, according to the charges.

A woman accepted the delivery, but Faatafuga and Gwaltney arrived an hour later in a silver Dodge pickup and took the package with them to a house in the Meadow Lakes area of Wasilla, the charges say. Minutes later, the electronic device emitted a tone that indicated the package had been opened.

A child answered the door when law enforcement officers knocked, and told them the truck was Faatafuga's, the charges say. The child also said Faatafuga was involved with drugs and invited the officers inside, where they saw drug paraphernalia, according to the charges.

Faatafuga had apparently left in the pickup, and officers arrested him elsewhere, the charges say.

The child said Gwaltney stayed in either a white tent or a motor home behind the house and that he and Faatafuga had been burning something in the front yard, the charges say. The officers found Gwaltney in the motor home and arrested him. During their searching, the officers allegedly found two baggies of methamphetamine and a felt, purple-and-gold Crown Royal bag holding about $5,000.

Officers found the safe in the fire and, an hour later, sifted through and discovered their tracking device, according to the charging document. When they shined a black light on Faatafuga's hands, the so-called "clue" spray glowed, but Gwaltney's hands were apparently too dirty for the spray to have rubbed off on him, the charges say.

Court records show Faatafuga and Gwaltney had their first court appearance in Anchorage on Friday and remained jailed Monday.

Reach Casey Grove at 257-4343.