KODIAK — Following a major drug bust in early June, four locals were indicted on federal drug distribution and conspiracy charges in a US District Court on Tuesday. Alexander Ancheta, Christian Penamora, Joan Sison and Joseph Ramos were all indicted on charges of conspiring to sell more than 500 grams of methamphetamine between December and June.
The federal indictments are the result of a multi-month, multi-agency investigation that involved the undercover purchase of narcotics on a number of occasions over the course of several months. Court documents state that the drug activity centered around a residence on Thorsheim Street, where a search warrant uncovered hundreds of grams of methamphetamine and heroin and thousands of dollars in cash. More cash and drugs were found in vast quantities in a number of stash houses around town, including one on Hemlock Street, where over 600 grams of meth was purchased by an individual working with law enforcers during an undercover operation.
All the charges relate to the distribution of meth and heroin, explained Alaska State Trooper Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit Investigator Garrett Frost on Thursday.
Frost noted that law enforcers determined that Ancheta was at the top of the hierarchy, with Sison, Ramos, and Penamora working under him. Frost referred to Ancheta as a “big deal” in terms of Kodiak drug dealers.
“Alex Ancheta was probably the top person in Kodiak for dealing. He was kind of the ringleader,” Frost said. “Sison was number two, and Penamora and Ramos worked with him and sold drugs from that residence.”
Frost also said that these indictments do not mark the end of the investigation and that there are likely other stash houses and accomplices yet to be uncovered.
The investigation is one of many being worked on by Kodiak’s newly formed High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.
“Now, there is a Kodiak HIDTA. It’s just a joint task force that includes Kodiak Police Department, Alaska State Troopers and the Coast Guard Investigative Unit,” Frost said. “My job is strictly just to investigate the sale of drugs.”
The taskforce includes Frost, three special agents from the Coast Guard Investigative Service and Sgt. Michael Barnet from KPD’s Drug Enforcement Unit. Frost said that the Thorsheim bust has been the largest drug seizure that the Kodiak HIDTA task force has achieved.
Due to various ongoing investigations, law enforcers can only talk about the work that the HIDTA task force is doing in broad strokes. According to Barnett, the team formed sometime in the fall of 2018.
“It was a state designation. We were one of the last states to get it,” Barnett said. “They broke it down into regions within the state with the designation — Kodiak being one of them.”
HIDTA is a federal program that provides resources to local law enforcers to tackle drug trafficking. This includes funding for training, travel and equipment. Both Frost and Barnett said it does not provide additional funds for salaries.
Most significantly, it has brought investigators together from local, state and federal levels to collaborate. Barnett noted that this gives the team greater abilities than the sum of the parts.
“There are rules attached to it, and one of them is there have to be components within each HIDTA task force of federal, state and municipal alliance. And, that’s the strength,” Barnett said. “With the resources behind it — and then the resources each of those members can bring to it — it’s supposed to be synergistic.”
As an example, Barnett pointed out that his jurisdiction stretches only as far as the city limits. If a drug investigation leads him past that point, a Trooper within the task force can take the ball and run with it. Furthermore, if an investigation works its way up the narcotics supply chain, investigators may be following leads down to the Lower 48 and often even to other countries, at which point the federal members of the team can take over.
Both Barnett and Frost were quick to note that the CGIS agents involved are utterly critical to the whole operation — particularly in securing federal indictments for drug dealers.
“We couldn’t do this without the federal component,” Barnett said, firmly. “They’ve got the deep pockets, they’ve got the reach, they’ve got the connections.
“What might take me a month and might take Frost a week, might take all of us only several days to achieve.”
Though a HIDTA task force is conducting investigations in Kodiak, Barnett noted that the program has not yet fully established itself. The gears of the federal government are still moving and the way the program is executed in Kodiak is still evolving.
Nonetheless, Kodiak’s HIDTA task force is making progress. Barnett said in his 16 years with KPD, the Thorsheim bust is the biggest he’s ever seen in terms of the quantity of narcotics involved.
“I’ve long said Alaska is five years behind the rest of the Lower 48 … But we’re starting to see a pound-seizure in Kodiak as the equivalent of seeing hundreds of pounds at the border. We’ve just never seen this before,” he said. “We used to have small amounts at high prices, because it was hard to get here. Well, it’s supply and demand. And, all of a sudden, we’re seeing larger amounts and lower prices.”
While Barnett described Ancheta as “arguably the largest distributor in town at this point in time,” he remained resolute in his opinion of what is likely to happen next: the arrest of Ancheta will leave a vacuum and someone will inevitably take his place. The drugs still on the streets of Kodiak will be sold at temporarily inflated prices and another dealer will work to fill the sudden increase in demand. He said this view was “cynical,” but “realistic.”
“We’re a closed ecosystem,” he said. “With these large amounts, that’s feeding a demand. You take those amounts off the street and that leaves a vacuum. You take the people arranging to meet that demand off the street, and it leaves a vacuum. The ripple effect will be everyone jockeying for position.”
But, if the HIDTA task force is successful, it will slowly begin to stem the flow of drugs onto the island. Barnett said that the focus is on moving up the supply chain as far as possible. By taking one dealer off the street, you impact a small number of people; by tackling a larger supplier, you can debilitate a whole chain of distribution.
“The bigger these busts, the more you can have an effect,” Barnett said. “Our focus is not on how many people did he have under him, as much as how many people does he have above him?”
Barnett doesn’t know how many overdoses have occurred in Kodiak. In cases he’s worked over the years, he’s seen half a dozen to a dozen, but based on his theory that the trends in the Lower 48 reach Alaska on a delayed timeline, he foresees an increase on the horizon.
“Our wave is coming. The stuff that’s down south, where they show up to a party and there are six people OD’d on the floor, and they’re just frantically trying to apply Narcan to a bunch of apparently dead bodies,” Barnett said. “Ask them in Tennessee or Kentucky or Iowa how often they see that. It’s coming for us.”
Local law enforcers encourage the public to report any suspicious or illegal activity to KPD, AST or anonymously to Crime Stoppers.