Authorities in Anchorage on Tuesday intercepted 5 pounds of heroin hidden inside the engine of an SUV shipped from Southern California to Alaska, according to federal charges filed Wednesday.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says the shipment represented thousands of user "doses" of the drug and was likely intended for distribution around the state.
Alaska State Troopers were tipped off to the shipment April 6, after a man called a shipping company again and again asking about the status of a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe that was being sent from Thermal, California, to Anchorage, the charges say. Thermal is known by the DEA to be the origin of "large shipments of illegal drugs throughout the United States, specifically Alaska," according to the charges.
After the bust, federal prosecutors charged Alfred Carranza and Jose Rivas-Ortiz Jr. with conspiracy to distribute heroin. A DEA agent wrote that the men used "counter-surveillance" tactics — such as traveling in separate cars and making multiple U-turns — to try to determine if police had followed them.
It didn't work.
"I guess I blew that operation," Carranza blurted after his arrest at a Spenard apartment, according to an affidavit written by a DEA special agent.
The vehicle had been trucked to Washington state and loaded on a barge to Whittier, arriving Saturday in Anchorage, the charges say. A police dog smelled illegal drugs in the Tahoe, and authorities obtained a search warrant to look inside, the charges say.
Investigators found 10 bundles of heroin, wrapped in black and blue tape and hidden within the engine compartment, according to the affidavit.
Rivas-Ortiz had picked up the SUV at a local shipping company. Carranza followed the Tahoe in a separate car.
At one point, investigators watched Rivas-Ortiz and Carranza standing at the SUV, with the hood open, removing the engine cover, according to the DEA. The two men were arrested on the 1700 block of West 36th Avenue.
The men had been seen coming and going from an apartment where the DEA says investigators later found digital scales, "a large quantity of 'burner' phones," ledger books, a heroin/opioid overdose kit and receipts showing that Carranza had traveled to and from the border area of Southern California and Mexico.
The 5 pounds of heroin seized in the bust would be worth about $100,000 or more to dealers, said Michael Root, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA's Anchorage office.
"It's definitely a large amount. But we keep seeing that much," Root said.
"I don't think it was destined just for Anchorage," he said. "I think it was probably destined for other parts of Alaska too."