Anchorage law enforcement cracking down on fentanyl sales
A series of indictments handed down by a federal grand jury in Anchorage highlight the Department of Justice’s crackdown on suppliers fueling the opioid epidemic.
In a press release Tuesday, U.S. Attorneys in Anchorage announced Sergio Jauna Devoe, 27, of Anchorage, is charged with possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and fentanyl on May 5 of this year. The release says Devoe was also charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
In an unrelated case, Misty G. Thomas, 25, of Anchorage was charged with possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and fentanyl on October 6 and 7, and November 9, 2016.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug used in hospitals for pain relief.
“In recent years, we've seen it being manufactured in China and being sold on the streets either under the name of "gray death," or we've seen it called “China white.” It’s just hundreds of times more powerful than heroin-- and it has the same addictive opioid effects, if not greater,” said Frank Russo, acting criminal chief for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage.
He says the drug is so powerful the DEA has ordered law enforcement officers not to do field tests on any drugs they suspect could be laced with fentanyl.
“The danger of this drug is just a few grains of it can kill someone, and there have been law enforcement officers throughout the United States who have just been exposed to a few grains of it through their investigations and have been rushed to the hospital and have almost lost their lives,” said Russo.
Russo says most fentanyl in Alaska comes through shipments from China or the Lower 48. It’s purchased online then sold on the street to heroin addicts.
“Fentanyl is the next, latest deadly step in this disease that I think you see all throughout Anchorage causing problems,” said Russo.
He says his office is following directives from Washington D.C. to take any and all fentanyl cases, and the latest indictments should serve as a warning to dealers.
“The message we are sending is: If you are selling fentanyl, then you've got an automatic ticket to federal prison.”
These types of street-level cases aren’t usually prosecuted through federal court, but Russo says through a partnership they have with the Municipality of Anchorage, they have a special U.S. Attorney who works with the Anchorage Police Department’s VICE and other specialized units to bring these smaller cases to federal court, where, “There typically is more of a chance of them being detained and more of a chance that the sentences they get are gonna be reflective of the crime.”
When asked if bringing the cases to federal court is a way to bypass Senate Bill 91, Alaska’s new crime reform law, Russo said, “The thing about SB91 is, I really can't comment on the legislation. What I can tell you is that the impact of SB91 and the perception of SB91 among criminals has been overwhelmingly positive, and that doesn't serve the deterrent focuses that we want to have in law enforcement.”
A third indictment listed in the press release is for Charles Mosley Jr., 36, of Anchorage. He’s charged with possession with the intent to distribute more than 100 doses of heroin and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
Roughly six months ago, APD announced they would "refocus" their community action patrol (CAP) team and VICE unit on drug enforcement, believing attacking the drug problem will cause a positive trickle-down effect in reducing rampant violence and property crime in Anchorage.
Tuesday, a spokesperson for APD confirmed the CAP team was involved in the Devoe case, APD’s patrol unit was involved in Mosley Jr.’s case, and the VICE unit was involved in the Thomas case.