Alleged drug smuggler’s federal trial postponed to July

The trial for a Washington man facing federal charges for allegedly smuggling large amounts of heroin and meth into Southeast Alaska, which was set to start Monday, has been postponed to July.

That trial date is in doubt, however, with a judge set to rule on whether the search warrant that led to the arrest should be thrown out.

Zerisenay Gebregiorgis, 34, is facing a drug conspiracy charge after being arrested by the Alaska State Troopers’ Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit in August 2016, after a joint investigation by Ketchikan Police and troopers. A motion to continue his trial was not opposed by federal prosecutor Jack Schmidt and the date was rescheduled for July 24.

Gebregiorgis’ defense attorney, Rex Lamont Butler, has also filed a motion to suppress the search warrant that led to his client’s arrest.

According to Butler’s memorandum in support of his motion, the search warrant should be thrown out because the officer who testified in support of the warrant intentionally or recklessly omitted materials facts or misrepresented the facts.

According to the warrant, a residence had been searched in Ketchikan on June 30, 2016, and the residents — Craig Leask and Sarah Kinser — were found with 2 grams of methamphetamine. The couple told police that “some people from Seattle” had come up from Washington with meth, and that they had come to an agreement with Kinser that she would sell the meth for them.

“She had been selling for them for the past week,” the officer testified. “The Seattle people were here to sell drugs. They approached Kinser because she had local connections.”

The couple identified the Washington drug dealers as including a man known as “Bullet,” one of Gebregiorgis’ aliases, and said they had been at their house selling meth and heroin. The police officer testified that Leask told him the Washington dealers had rented a room at a local lodge and that he had seen an ounce of meth and heroin there.

But, according to Butler, a transcript of the officer’s interview with Leask says nothing of the sort. In the transcript, the officer asks Leask if they have dope at the hotel, and he replies yes. But then the officer asks him, “Were you up at the hotel?” and Leask responds, “No, they came here. That is when I got them out of here.”

Leask then tells the officer they came with it, but did not sell to anyone while they were at his residence.

Similarly, Butler says, Kinser never told the police officer she had an agreement to sell drugs for the Washington dealers. Instead, she told him she was supposed to hold it for them.

“They … told me here are some bags, hold onto it, we will come get it as we can, and if you can get rid of something go ahead,” Kinser says in the transcript of her interview, adding they told her she would owe them $900. “This is how much you are going to owe if you lose it, get rid of it, or do anything with it,” she explained.

According to Butler’s motion, the detective’s misstatements “could not have been anything but intentional,” since only a few hours had elapsed between the interviews and the testimony he provided in obtaining the search warrant.

Plus, Butler argues, without those statements, the warrant would not have been issued and therefore it should be suppressed.

“There was no probable cause to believe that evidence was located in the room to be searched,” he wrote, adding that all evidence obtained through the warrant should be thrown out.


• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or liz.kellar@juneauempire.com.


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