Leader of Alaska-Nevada drug ring sentenced to 15 years

Ghafouria gets 15 years, was last of 27 charged including Peninsula locals

A Las Vegas man who operated a drug trafficking organization that shipped prescription drugs from Nevada to Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison.


Nicholas Ghafouria pleaded guilty to conspiracy, drug and money laundering charges. The 28-year-old laundered more than $1 million through bank accounts in Las Vegas, according to a Department of Justice District of Nevada press release. His sentencing comes three months after the prosecution offered Ghafouria a plea deal, which included the 15-year sentence and the forfeiture of $1.2 million in cash and property.

He was the last of 27 defendants charged in the scheme. Seventeen of those defendants were from the Kenai Peninsula. All of the defendants pleaded guilty and received prison sentences, according to the press release.

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.

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.

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. He also admitted to using multiple methods to get the drugs north. For example, he packaged drugs and used 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, including the Alaska State Troopers and the Soldotna and Kenai Police Departments.

“Over the last several years, we have been working with state and local law enforcement and health care providers to attack the growing prescription drug abuse problem in Nevada,” said Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada, in the press release. “Since January 2010, over 100 individuals, including four doctors and a pharmacist, have been charged in Nevada with unlawfully distributing highly addictive prescription painkillers.”

The Peninsula’s law enforcement officials have also worked to reduce the availability of opiates during 2012, they said in recent interviews with the Clarion. Doctors at Central Peninsula Hospital took steps to reduce the availability of prescription drugs, as well. No local doctors have been charged with distributing painkillers.

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