A Mexican citizen who brought methamphetamine into the secluded community of Ketchikan on Alaska's Panhandle -- the first port of call within the state for northbound cruise ships and state ferries -- has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on a drug conspiracy charge.
Forty-nine-year-old Fernando Benitez-Moreno ran drugs under various names and nicknames, including David Sanchez, “Security,” “Uncle Cesar” and “Uncle Bob.” According to an Alaska U.S. Attorney’s office press release, he illegally returned to Alaska after a prior drug-related conviction. He should serve more than a decade behind bars for a single count of meth conspiracy, though he’ll do so in his home country -- he’s being deported back to Mexico.
Benitez-Moreno entered the U.S. in 1980, when he was 16. His parents were farmers, and he denied being exposed to substance abuse during his childhood, though prosecutors describe the man as a career criminal, according to affidavits filed in federal court. He has three prior convictions -- two in 1991 and one in 1996 -- for controlled substance offenses.
In early February 2011, Benitez-Moreno was sentenced in Arizona district court for re-entering the U.S. after being deported, according to the affidavits. Six months later, he had pleaded guilty in Alaska to the meth conspiracy charge.
Meth, an addictive and destructive drug, continues to be a problem in the state, according to the Alaska State Troopers' annual drug report. The National Drug Intelligence Center, a now-defunct government agency, said meth is the greatest threat to the nation’s Pacific region, with the majority of it flowing through the U.S.-Mexico border.
Troopers say meth labs continue to be found in single- and multifamily residences statewide. They seized more than 35 pounds of meth last year, more than triple the two previous years combined.
Police in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city and a little more than 200 miles from Ketchikan, reported that the street value of heroin and meth were significantly higher in Alaska when compared to Outside states and cities with larger populations. Operation “Jack and the Beanstalk,” which ended in 2012, netted 38 indictments related to an oxycodone drug ring based out of Sacramento, Calif., but as the prescription drug supply dwindled, the demand for and price of meth increased.
However, Benitez-Moreno brought meth to Alaska three years before the price skyrocketed, from January 2007 to November 2009.
According to testimony presented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt, the lone federal prosecutor in Southeast, “Uncle Bob” was a manager and organizer of a group that trafficked meth between Washington state and Ketchikan. Benitez-Moreno described himself more as a middle man than a leader of any sort. He was acting at the behest and interest of others, he said.
He used female drug couriers traveling on commercial flights to take the drug between states. Then the profits were brought back to Benitez-Moreno via the same method, according to the affidavits.
Benitez-Moreno also flew to Ketchikan himself to handle business -- managing distribution of the meth and collecting profits. The U.S. Attorney’s Office listed 10 other individuals, some with nicknames like “Chief” and “Louie,” who were previously convicted and sentenced in connection with the meth deals.
On March 13, 2008, co-conspirators Deeann M. Hanson and Meghan S. Bird touched down at Ketchikan’s airport with 51 grams of meth. Police arrested the women, and the drugs were eventually tied to Benitez-Moreno.