FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Like so many people throughout Alaska's history, Crist Bigler came north in 1997 to find an out-of-the-way spot and carve out a living. The difference was that Bigler tried to do it by making methamphetamine.
In this, Bigler was a pioneer of sorts: His lab on Alder Street in North Pole was among the first busted in the Interior.
Eventually, Bigler's line of work caught up with him and he was indicted on multiple federal drug charges. In a Thursday hearing in U.S. District Court, Bigler, 41, received his sentence. The specifics of the sentence have been sealed to the public, but federal sentencing guidelines suggest that Bigler will be serving a long prison term. The records were sealed at the request of counsel due to sensitive information in the case.
According to Alaska State Trooper Sgt. J.R. Roberts, head of the multiagency Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit, drug agents first became aware of Bigler when they found drugs and money near a spot where police had made a traffic stop of Bigler's car on the Parks Highway in the Matanuska-Susitna area.
According to court documents, Bigler at the time also was wanted in southwestern Washington state where he had failed to appear for a sentencing for a meth-related conviction. Washington authorities would later alert Alaska law enforcement that they were on the lookout for Bigler and that he might have fled to Alaska.
In June 1998, local authorities were alerted to multiple purchases of a number of products commonly used to make methamphetamine. This led to the drug enforcement unit placing an electronic bug in a drum of toluene, a common meth ingredient, that was subsequently purchased on June 10.
The buyer, Ralph Firestone, led police to a residence on Alder Street in North Pole where two days later a search warrant led to the discovery of a large-scale meth lab.
''I don't think there was ever an active meth lab investigated by the unit'' until then, Roberts said. ''The one in '98 was the first I can recall.''
The early morning raid, the result of six months of investigation, was carried out by six drug investigators and agents armed with a bullet-blocking shield. They found the lab in a 10-foot by 12-foot plywood storage shed hidden behind an unassuming single-story rental in a residential neighborhood.
Bigler, a prime suspect in the running of the lab, was not at the scene. He was rounded up the next day in a room at the Klondike Inn where he reportedly had about $19,000 and 10 grams of methamphetamine, as well as a scale and packaging material. He faced state charges based on the arrest, but those charges were dropped so Bigler could be extradited to Washington state.
Bigler, along with three co-defendants, was eventually indicted in federal court in Fairbanks. He faced counts of conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance, manufacturing a controlled substance, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute and four counts of possession of a listed chemical with the intent to distribute.
The other three defendants in the case all reached plea agreements: Victoria Tune and Kari Hysong, pleaded to one count each of money laundering. Firestone, who originally was indicted on two counts, pleaded to one count of possession of a listed chemical -- the toluene -- with intent to manufacture a controlled substance. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Most of the details of Bigler's court case have been sealed, but there are indications that Bigler entered into a plea agreement leading to Thursday's sentencing.
According to Roberts, it is believed that Bigler operated labs at several other locations in the Interior before starting one in North Pole. The indictment charges Bigler with manufacturing meth beginning in August 1997.
Roberts noted that the lab was not only the first raided in the area, but that it remains one of the biggest to have been found in the Interior.
''We've probably busted two to three labs equal in size since then,'' Roberts said. He estimated that more than 30 such labs have been raided in the Interior in the 3 1/2 years since Bigler was arrested.
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