Crime & Courts

Anchorage couple sentenced on federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges

Two Anchorage residents have been sentenced to years in prison after pleading guilty to selling methamphetamine and violating federal banking rules by concealing the profits.

May Saelee, 47, and her husband, Cher Vang, also 47, were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess to 40 months and 57 months in federal prison, respectively, followed by five years of supervised release.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court, in 2017 a “cooperating source,” never named in the documents, approached law enforcement unprompted and told them about the couple’s operation.

The source “had been involved in dealing methamphetamine,” wrote Alaska State Trooper Ricky Pawlak in the criminal complaint. The person came forward because they were “tired of seeing people’s lives ruined because of drugs.”

During the course of a year, the source purchased 15 ounces of nearly pure methamphetamine from Saelee and Vang, who were referred to in court documents at times as “The First Lady,” and “The President,” as well as “Spud.”

Saelee and Vang pleaded guilty to conspiracies to distribute 50 grams or more of meth, though investigators reported spending $12,000 during controlled buys for more than 400 grams.

In plea agreements, the couple admitted to selling meth to people they knew would re-sell it, and making structured deposits worth more than $150,000 into bank accounts to launder proceeds between 2011 and 2018. The money was also used to buy real-estate and other properties. As part of their agreement with prosecutors, the couple surrendered over $150,000, along with nine firearms, a mix of handguns and hunting rifles.

Though the couple pleaded guilty in 2019, sentencing was delayed for more than two years because federal courts have been largely closed to in-person proceedings. While Saelee was released on bail during that period, Mr. Vang has remained in jail.

In a written statement, the U.S. Attorney’s office referred to the case as breaking up a “drug ring operating out of Mountain View,” where the couple owned a property referred to as “The Poker House” in which all the controlled buys took place. Saelee and Vang lived in a property in another neighborhood close to Muldoon Road. In response to an email seeking clarification about additional conspirators in the alleged drug ring, a spokesperson for the Attorney’s Office said there are no other defendants in the case.

“I think this reference is more about the fact that they sold a very large amount of methamphetamine over a long period of time to many people,” wrote Public Affairs Officer Lisa K. Houghton.

Through their attorneys, both Saelee and Vang declined to comment.

“I think that the government frequently boasts about every case as if it was a major victory,” said Steven Wells, Vang’s attorney, who criticized what he believes are outdated and overly punitive federal sentencing guidelines for drug offenses.

“The fact that drugs are cheaper and of higher quality (now) tells you how successful that war on drugs has been,” Wells said.

“It should be really obvious that the penalties for drug crimes are extremely harsh in federal court,” said D. Scott Dattan, Saelee’s attorney.

Both Saelee and Vang will serve their sentences at federal facilities outside of Alaska.