ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - What began with a tip to the Alaska State Troopers ended with multiple arrests and the seizure of almost five pounds of heroin. The drugs were crammed inside the engine of an SUV, which was being shipped up to Alaska from California.
According to federal charging documents filed Wednesday, the Drug Enforcement Administration intercepted the vehicle, a 2008 Chevy Tahoe, still in a shipping container. The affidavit states that a man called the shipping company "multiple times" about the vehicle's status, but would not give his name. He was later identified by phone number as the man shipping the Tahoe, Jose Ernesto Rivas-Ortiz.
At the end of the investigation, Rivas-Ortiz, as well as Alfred Carranza, the registered owner of the SUV, wound up arrested, charged with possessing and intending to distribute heroin.
The Tahoe, loaded with drugs, arrived in Anchorage on April 7, and was scheduled to be delivered two days later. It arrived, however, not without being inspected closely.
The DEA stepped in due to the tip, the conspicuous calls from Rivas-Ortiz, and the fact that the car was being sent from Thermal, California, which according to the feds is a known source location of large shipments of illegal drugs throughout the Unites States and specifically to Alaska.
A DEA agent utilized a drug sniffing K9 named Balu-Mocha, trained to find meth, cocaine, and heroin. Balu-Mocha sniffed out the presence of drugs under the car's hood and the agents pulled out 10 bundles inside the engine compartment, containing 2,236 grams of heroin wrapped in plastic and blue tape.
However, the DEA didn't just take the vehicle. Instead, they bugged it, inserting an electronic tracking device and monitoring equipment. Then they let Rivas-Ortiz pick it up and drive it away.
According to the documents, Rivas-Ortiz and Carranza, who dropped Rivas-Ortiz off at the port to pick up the Tahoe, were not entirely unsuspecting regarding the presence of law enforcement. The DEA reported the two men conducting "counter-surveillance" by driving in patterns to monitor if they were being followed, "making a series of u-turns and rounding several more blocks before leaving the area."
Eventually, however, the two men popped the hood of the Tahoe and, putting on purple latex gloves and cracking open the engine cover, inadvertently triggered the alert installed by the DEA. That's when the feds made their move, taking both men into custody.
"I guess I blew that operation," Carranza allegedly blurted out to authorities spontaneously, not even during specific questioning.
Following an investigation of the apartment the men were observed in on West 36th Ave., where digital scales, burner phones, and other incriminating evidence was found, the two men were charged with the drug charges.