The overdose death of a 22-year-old Houston man in early December led the way for the bust of a multi-state drug operation involving at least six people, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers were notified on Dec. 1 of the death of Michael Chalender. AST spokeswoman Megan Peters said a family member found him and reported the death, which the State Medical Examiner concluded was the result of an overdose.

The investigation was headed by the Alaska State Troopers Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit in the Mat-Su Valley (SDEU-MatSu), according to an online trooper dispatch.

The Suspects

On Dec. 2, SDEU-MatSu and the Palmer Patrol arrested 21-year-old Sawyer Gruben, of Fairbanks, as he was leaving the home of 26-year-old Hiram Ducasse, of Palmer. Troopers said they recovered 13.46 grams of heroin and two firearms. Gruben faces charges of second- and fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. He’s being held at the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility on a $1,500 bail.

The next day, SDEU-MatSu Palmer Patrol and Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team (WAANT) conducted a warranted search of Ducasse’s home, where they found 35 grams — or slightly more than an ounce — of heroin, a handgun and $8,226 in cash. Ducasse was arrested and charged with second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.

On Dec. 11, investigators searched the Wasilla residence of 29-year-old Samuel Hubbard. During the warranted search, they seized 8.4 grams of meth, 21.7 grams of heroin, eight firearms and $2,164 in cash, troopers said. Hubbard was subsequently arrested on second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and was taken to the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility under a $25,000 bail.

Troopers then intercepted a fifth suspect in the case, 54-year-old California resident Deborah Thomas, as she arrived at the Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport on Dec. 12. When confronted, Thomas revealed she was transporting drugs internally. She voluntarily removed a total of 107 grams of heroin in the presence of a female officer in a private room at the airport, according to troopers. She was charged with second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and is being held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex on a $20,000 bail.

Troopers were granted a $50,000 warrant for the arrest of Ducasse’s live-in girlfriend, 23-year-old Angela McCready, for her involvement in the drug ring. She was indicted on second- and fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Similarly, a $25,000 warrant was issued for 28-year-old Michael Trudeau, of Wasilla. Neither has been arrested, according to AST spokeswoman Megan Peters.

Results of the Investigation

“In total, 11 search warrants were served resulting in 177 grams of heroin and 8.4 grams of meth with a street value of $53,000, nine firearms — three of which have been confirmed stolen — and $10,390 in currency was seized,” troopers wrote.

Peters said the relationship between Chalender and the group would not be released while troopers continue to investigate.