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Nevada man pleads guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy, 19 Alaska residents involved

Posted: October 1, 2012 - 8:35pm  |  Updated: October 1, 2012 - 8:51pm

A Las Vegas man who operated a drug trafficking organization that transported prescription drugs from Nevada to Anchorage, Homer, Kenai, Soldotna and Wasilla pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy, as well as drug and money laundering charges, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Nevada.

Nicholas Ghafouria, 28, agreed to serve 15 years in federal prison. He laundered more than $1 million through bank accounts in Las Vegas, according to the press release.

Ghafouria pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone and criminal forfeiture. His sentencing is set for Jan. 3, 2013 in Nevada. The plea agreement states the parties agreed to a sentence of 15 years in prison and the forfeiture of approximately $1.2 million in cash and property. According to the press release, if the court does not accept the plea agreement, the defendant may withdraw his guilty plea.

In November 2010, federal prosecutors charged 17 Kenai Peninsula residents for their alleged involvement in the drug operation, which involved the distribution of 6,000 tablets of Oxycodone and money laundering. Later, two more Alaska residents were charged.

A total of 27 people were charged, and the Alaska residents were originally arrested back in 2010.

Twenty-five of the defendants are charged with money laundering conspiracy, and 14 of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone.

All of the defendants have pleaded guilty, according to the press release.

The Alaska defendants are: Frankie Dupuis, 30, Soldotna; Cathleen Eugenia Renney, 54, Sterling; John Covich, 29, Kenai; Anthony Diaz, 20, Kenai; Cinthia Morgan Spoonts, 26, Soldotna; Shannon Walker, 49, Soldotna; Melissa Cue, 33, Kenai; Jon Horsley, 22, Soldotna; Harley Rice, 30, Soldotna; Jonathan Gattenby, 27, Soldotna; Jodaci Vogel, 31, Soldotna; Kevin Gonzales, 48, Soldotna; John Skoog, 29, Wasilla; Ernest Gallagher, 36, Kenai; BJ Griffith, 21, Anchor Point; Daniel Stevens Hall, 27, Kenai; Trevor Cunningham, 26, Soldotna; Alfred Jones, 47, Kenai and Shawn Newkirk, 43, Anchorage.

Jones, one of the aforementioned defendants, is also facing a second-degree murder charge for his involvement in a fatal 2010 Memorial Day weekend crash on the Sterling Highway between Homer and Anchor Point. Jones drove a GMC pickup truck that hit a Subaru Forester, killing a passenger, Kathleen Benz, 25, of Washington, D.C.

In charging documents, a Bureau of Highway Patrol trooper, Casey Hershberger, alleged that a blood draw of Jones tested positive for methamphetamines, Oxycodone, cocaine and marijuana.

Hershberger wrote that at about 8 p.m. May 29, 2010, while driving north toward Anchor Point in his truck, Jones drifted over the centerline into the southbound lane. The Subaru that Benz rode in, driven by Daniel Fairchild, followed behind three other cars heading south toward Homer. The drivers of those three cars avoided being hit by Jones, but Fairchild couldn’t evade Jones’ truck. After the truck hit the Subaru, the truck rolled and slid into the southbound lane, forcing a fifth car heading south off the road.

Ghafouria admitted in his plea agreement that between May 2009 and Oct. 30, 2010 he conspired with others to distribute thousands of Oxycodone pills in Alaska and that he laundered at least $1.2 million in cash proceeds. He also admitted he used various ways to get the drugs to Alaska, including packaging the drugs and using couriers on airplane flights. He sold the pills to his co-conspirators for $65 per pill, and the co-conspirators paid for the pills either by giving money to the couriers or depositing money into bank accounts in Alaska; the money was withdrawn in Nevada under Ghafouria’s direction.

The investigation was the effort of many law enforcement agencies.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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