A former Petersburg resident has been sentenced to five years in prison for importing and dealing heroin and cocaine in the community. Local police say the multi-year, multi-agency investigation began with an undercover agent as well as help from a local resident who was fed up with the drug activity in their neighborhood. Matt Lichtenstein reports: For mobile-friendly audio, click here
In a February 1st sentencing memorandum, the Assistant US Attorney for Alaska wrote that Victor Hugo Araujo was a member of a drug conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin to Petersburg from the lower-48 using the US postal service express mail. According to the memorandum, the 51-year-old traveled to southern California to obtain the drugs and mailed them to Petersburg where co-conspirators or Araujo himself distributed them to others.
Petersburg Police Seargent Heidi Agner says Araujo first came to her attention during an undercover drug investigation in the summer of 2010:
“When we had an undercover agent working here, that person was able to besides giving us this information also led the arrest of four people, all who were charged and convicted, and served time for felony convictions for drug related crimes. That person gave us the first inkling that Mr. Araujo was involved in dealing drugs in Petersburg, specifically heroin”
Agner says local residents also provided numerous reports about Araujo:
“One of the reports was that he was actually not only bringing the heroine and selling it, he was making it ready for people in syringes. We were told that high school students along with young adults were using that service he provided.”
According to Agner, Araujo’s activities were not limited to a particular part of town. However, she says one citizen in particular was so completely fed up with what he and his family were seeing in their neighborhood that he let police work out of his home:
“He allowed me to come into his residence and observe what was going on around in his neighborhood. I ended up taking photographs of this Mr. Araujo going into this area and (making) short visits less than five minutes, bringing in a bag, less than five minutes and then leaving.”
At that point, Agner says police had a lot of information, but not enough evidence to file charges. So, she shared her suspicions with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force that works out of the Seattle-Tacoma airport.
“I believed he was probably going out of Petersburg with money, going to various places in the united states and probably out of country and then importing heroin and meth back into Petersburg.”
In January of 2011, when local officers observed Araujo leaving from the airport in Petersburg, Agner alerted the drug task force in Seattle.
“And on one-four of 2011 they made contact with Mr. Araujo. That contact led to the seizure of four ounces of heroin and two ounces of cocaine. Then Mr. Araujo ahd said he would work with the task force. He actually instead kind of took us on a wild goose-chase.”
In fact, according to the US Attorny’s office, between January 4th and March 13 of 2011, Araujo mailed a total of four packages that were seized by US Postal Inspectors and/or Petersburg Police. They contained more than 136 grams of Heroin and nearly 60 grams of cocaine.
By January 2012, Agner says Araujo had moved out of Petersburg. She believes that was the direct result of increased involvement from other state and federal agencies in local drug investigations.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration, State Troopers, SEACAD, the Post Office had come into town and we had done various search warrants and knock-and-talks, getting everybody in the drug milieu pretty excited.”
SEACAD stands for Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs. It’s a regional task force of local and state law enforcement.
In August of last year, a federal grand jury in Alaska indicted Araujo on one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine. He was arrested in California and eventually pleaded guilty to the charge under an agreement with the US Attorney’s office.
Agner says the citizen who had let her use his home for surveillance is no longer in town, but she credits him with getting the ball rolling on this case.
“They had said to me when they were allowing me in their hose, ‘Well, is anything going to come of this?’ and I said, ‘You have to understand, this can take years.’ And, you know to be able to say to them, wherever they are now, that what they did yes, three years ago, made a difference. You know, I know there’s still drugs coming into town because there are still people using it and we can’t stop that, unfortunately. But, this was a person of major consequence to Petersburg. I think, again, at least you’ll tell people, ‘Hey. We will be diligent. We will keep looking. Your neighbors are watching. They don’t want this in their town and we’ll keep fighting the good fight.”
In the government’s sentencing memorandum, Assistant US Attorney Jack Schmidt emphasized the effects of drug trafficking in a small town. While he said the amount of drugs for which the defendant was convicted was small, the effect on such a small community made the offense a more serious one. Schmidt wrote that the community was “sick and tired of being afraid of what drugs might be supplied to their children.”
According to Schmidt, Araujo has admitted to being a “serious drug addict whose choices have led him from youthful offender to a life of vehicle thefts, burglaries and his present involvement in a drug conspiracy.” Schmidt wrote that this appears to be Araujo’s first conviction for distributing narcotics.
On February 8th, a federal Judge in Ketchikan accepted Araujo’s plea agreement and sentenced him to serve five years in prison, which is the government’s mandatory minimum sentence in such a case.