In charges stemming from a months-long undercover investigation of the Unalaska drug trade, police have charged a production manager for the hit cable TV show "Deadliest Catch" with using and selling cocaine.
All told, Unalaska police say they seized more than $80,000 worth of methamphetamine, OxyContin, cocaine and marijuana in two separate investigations that filled the city jail late last month. Eighteen people have been charged so far, with more cases in the works, said Unalaska public safety director Jamie Sunderland.
Matthew J. Schneider, a 22-year-old who police say worked behind the scenes on "Deadliest Catch," is still on the loose and thought to be in California. As of Wednesday, he appeared to be the only person working on the show to be charged.
Police accuse Schneider of delivering $300 worth of cocaine to an undercover officer posing as a young man who was looking for work and for drugs in the Aleutian Chain fishing town of 3,600, according to charges filed April 27.
Schneider -- who was sometimes recorded by police -- often talked about selling drugs and said his supervisor on the television show "occasionally imported large amounts of cocaine from California to Unalaska for distribution at 'Deadly Catch' parties," the charges say.
Even in the small Dutch Harbor police department, few people knew about the undercover sting when it began in January, the chief said. Police hired a young Alaskan hoping for a full-time job with the department as a "special commissioned officer" to go undercover and buy drugs.
Known as a hard-living, hard-partying fishing town, Unalaska doesn't have the boom-and-bust economy it did before "rationalization" put an end to derby-style crabbing, Sunderland said.
Still, there's money to be made, and where there's money there are drugs, said City Manager Chris Hladick. The City Council has been trying to make Dutch Harbor a more family-friendly town, he said, but it has seen a recent spike in OxyContin use.
People pay $200 a pill for the prescription painkiller, Hladick said, and a drug-related shooting in July prompted this year's undercover investigation.
"One guy shot the other one five times, and then he turned the gun on himself," he said.
Meantime, meth use has increased in the past five years, and cocaine remains one of the most common drugs encountered by police, Sunderland said.
Paid partly through a Justice Department grant, the undercover investigator made contacts in local bars, buying cocaine, pot, OxyContin and Ecstasy, police said.
"He kind of immersed himself in the drug scene and was able to make a lot of connections and eventually purchased drugs from several people, and that's what eventually led to the arrests," Sunderland said.
The charges against Schneider are among the most recent.
The undercover officer on March 19 talked to Schneider inside the Harbor View Inn about buying cocaine, the charges say. Schneider suggested giving money for the drugs to another man, Cameron Hutchins, that night, police say.
The officer gave Hutchins $300 and, the next day, Schneider provided the cocaine, according to the charges.
Schneider faces one count each of third and fourth-degree felony drug charges. Hutchins, who was arrested last month, faces eight counts.
The trend-setter for a string of Alaska-based reality shows, "Deadliest Catch" made Unalaska a household word. Asked if anyone else affiliated with the show was caught in the sting, the police chief was cryptic.
"No one that has been charged currently," he said.
Will anyone else affiliated with the show face drug charges in the future? "I'm not prepared to discuss that yet," Sunderland said.
A Discovery Channel spokeswoman referred questions about the charges to Original Productions, the company Schneider worked for, according to Discovery.
"We are aware of the news that has come out, but as it is an ongoing investigation right now we are unable to comment," said Maggie Nye, a spokeswoman for the production company.
Police think Schneider may be in California and say he has a place to stay in Los Angeles. He told the undercover officer he was trying to get work on a documentary crew filming in the Himalayan Mountains, according to the charges against him.
The undercover investigation led to charges against at least 14 people, including charges for probation violations, police said. It's likely one of the biggest drug busts in years for the department, which has nine patrol officers and is perhaps best known for its dryly funny police blotter.
The sting ended as police finished a shorter drug investigation in April that an officer developed through street contacts, police said.
That case led to a search warrant and the seizure of drugs, money and evidence in OxyContin sales with four people arrested, police said.
By KYLE HOPKINS
Alaska Dispatch Publishing