Eight arrested on drug charges in multi-agency sting
Troopers last week arrested eight people after months of investigating the suspects for selling heroin and methamphetamine in Nome.
The drug bust took place on Oct. 29 when the Trooper’s Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team led by Sgt. Kevin Blanchette with help from the Nome Police Department, the FBI and two Bethel WAANT officers executed a simultaneous raid on all eight suspects.
They arrested Felicia Larsen, 25, of Nome and charged her with seven counts of misconduct involving controlled substances, MICS for short, in the second degree; Paul Benchoff Jr, 34, of Nome, for three counts of MICS second degree and one count of MICS third degree; Yvonne Aukon, 31 of Wasilla, two counts of MICS in the second degree; Joel Orazio, 53, of Anchorage, two counts of MICS second degree; Ida Booshu, 40, of Nome, two counts of MICS second degree; Daniel Atkinson, 59, three counts of MICS third degree; Michael McGowan Jr., 28, of Nome one count of MICS third degree and Joan Miller,34, of Nome, one count of MICS in the second degree. They stand accused of intent to distribute heroin and meth.
Seven grams of heroin— equivalent to 70 doses and valued at $7,000—were seized as well as $4,300 in cash, drug
AST Sgt. Blanchette said in an interview with the Nugget that WAANT had been investigating the individuals since January 2020. Investigation revealed that the accused were selling and distributing heroin and meth for $100-$120 per dose. An individual dose is one tenth of a gram. It was also determined that ten doses, approximately 1 gram, is sold for $1,000 in Nome. Sgt. Blanchette said last week’s arrests made a significant impact to the drug scene in Nome, but he also acknowledged that it is an uphill battle to eradicate drug use in the region and that the lack of a regional treatment center is not helpful. In addition to the two officers from Bethel WAANT, FBI agents came to Nome to assist the State Troopers in making the arrests and also with the investigative work. “This operation was a major disruption to the illegal narcotics supply in Nome and the surrounding villages, which is critical to the FBI’s mission in Alaska,” said Robert Britt, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Anchorage Field Office. “The FBI Safe Streets Task Force works tirelessly with our local partners, and in support of AST’s Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit, to keep Alaskans safe from those who have no regard for the devastation and lasting impacts drugs can have on our communities and its families.”
Due to inspection of commercial air cargo and enforcement efforts, illegal drugs tend to have a much higher street value in rural Alaska communities and villages than in urban Alaska and the Lower 48. One gram of heroin may sell for between $125-$140 in Anchorage, but in Nome it can sell for $1,000 and $1,200, according to a press release from Department of Public Safety.
The eight were taken to Anvil Mountain Correctional Center and had their Felony First Appearance before Judge Romano DiBenetto on Oct. 30. Their next court appearance is on Nov. 9 for a preliminary hearing at 1:30 p.m.