Crime & Courts

Officials arrest US citizen living in Mexico who they say recruited Alaskans to smuggle drugs into the state

Federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday that a man who claimed to be with a Mexican cartel and recruited Alaskans to smuggle methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin into the state has been arrested.

Miguel Baez Guevara, 38, is facing 17 federal charges related to the trafficking. He was arrested Friday by Mexican immigration officials and deported to the United States.

Federal officials have been investigating Guevara for five years and have indicted 23 other people on charges related to the trafficking, said Bryan Wilson, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska. The FBI, U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency led the investigation.

Guevara, who claims membership in the Sinaloa cartel, recruited Alaskans through social media platforms and encrypted texting applications to transport the drugs to Alaska from Mexico, according to a federal indictment filed in the case. Guevara and the cartel targeted Alaska “because of the increased prices the Enterprise would receive due to its distance away from Mexican sources of supply,” the indictment said.

Guevara is an American citizen but resided in Mexico, officials said. He worked from Mexico and did not cross into the U.S. because of outstanding federal and state warrants, the indictment said. The Sinaloa cartel operates out of Sonora, Mexico, and is also known for its ties to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison on drug and conspiracy charges.

Guevara and other cartel members booked travel for the recruits from Alaska to Arizona and then into Mexico, the indictment said. The recruits would later be paid in cash, heroin and methamphetamine, according to the indictment.

The Alaskan couriers often traveled in groups and would generally carry just over a half-pound of narcotics per trip, the indictment said. Guevara would arrange for members of the cartel to arrive in Alaska and distribute the drugs to local dealers, the indictment said.

The drugs were generally first brought to Anchorage, Fairbanks or Juneau and then distributed to smaller communities, said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Taylor.

The indictment lists 20 different incidents where conspirators were alleged to be in possession of drugs meant for distribution in Alaska. In total, those incidents indicate about 15.5 pounds of heroin was intended to be sold, along with nearly 5 1/2 pounds of methamphetamine and just over a half-pound of cocaine.

Taylor said the investigation is ongoing.

“In any operation, you’re probably just getting a fraction of the narcotics that are coming in when you’re doing these types of operations,” Taylor said.

Guevara made threats to the people he recruited and their families when drugs or money were missing, the indictment said.

“Guevara directed violent retaliation for suspected theft,” the indictment said.

The investigation into Guevara began in 2016 with what Paul Schultz, the special agent in charge at the Coast Guard Investigative Service, said was a relatively small seizure of methamphetamine on a state ferry.

“In this case, by pulling strings, pulling threads and through comprehensive investigation, we were led to Miguel Guevara,” he said.

Guevara faces a charge of continuing criminal enterprise, which is designed to target the leaders in trafficking operations, Wilson said. If convicted on that charge, Guevara would be sentenced to life in prison.

Guevara also faces 12 charges of possession of either heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine with intent to distribute and three charges related to firearm possession or use during drug trafficking.

Seventeen people have been charged in Alaska’s federal court related to the drug trafficking operation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Those include:

• Jason Alto, 25, who was sentenced in 2017 to serve 20 months in prison after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

• Chinaya Begay, 26, who was sentenced in 2021 to 13 months, which was already served, after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

• Dana Dwyer, 45, who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms and is scheduled for sentencing in 2022.

• Travon Grays, 28, who was sentenced in 2021 to 37 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

• Jessica Hannah, 26, who was sentenced in 2021 to seven months imprisonment, which she had already served, after she pleaded guilty to attempted possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Zanders Herndon, 39, who was sentenced in 2018 to 54 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to felon in possession of firearm and ammunition.

• Eva Houser, 38, who was sentenced in 2019 to 36 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• David Garcia Johnson, 29, who was sentenced in 2021 to 46 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to distribution of a controlled substance.

• Katrina Lundy, 41, who was sentenced in 2019 to 21 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to attempted possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Jarese Martinez, 28, who was sentenced in 2018 to 120 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Victor Mizugay-Gallego, 24, who pleaded guilty for attempted possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

• Alicia Norvell, 33, who was sentenced in 2018 to 10 months that she had already served after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Mykki Orth, 55, who was sentenced in 2018 to 15 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to distribution of controlled substances.

• Frances Pelch, 66, who was sentenced in 2021 to 36 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to attempted possession with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Jackie Polzel, 34, who was sentenced in 2018 to 36 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Kelly Pretty, 35, who was sentenced in 2018 to 16 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

• Audriel Soto, 25, who was sentenced in 2021 to 36 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

Six people have been charged in Arizona’s federal court related to the trafficking operation, including:

• Mario Burgueno, 36, who was sentenced in 2019 to 120 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

• April Krause, 36, who was sentenced in 2018 to 13 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess counterfeit obligations and sureties of the United States and Bringing in counterfeit obligations.

• Alicia Pierce, 27, who was sentenced to 10 months that she had already served when she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

• Jody Schuyler, 55, who was sentenced in 2019 to 12 months of imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

• Nicole Villa, 33, who was sentenced in 2019 to 10 months that she had already served after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

• Casey Wells, 39, who was sentenced in 2019 to 10 months that had already been served after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

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