Zerisenay Gebregiorgis, a Seattle man convicted by a jury in December of running a drug ring in Ketchikan and Sitka, was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.
Gebregiorgis, 36, was found guilty in December of working with others to distribute heroin and methamphetamine up to Southeast Alaska. After Gebregiorgis’ prison sentence, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess said Friday, Gebregiorgis will be under supervision for five years.
December’s trial included testimony from people who were involved in the drug ring, including dealers in Ketchikan and Sitka and women who were used as “suitcases,” or drug mules, who delivered drugs from Seattle. Law enforcement officials also testified, shedding light on how travel records, bank records, phone records and informants contributed to catching Gebregiorgis.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt requested a sentence of 12 years with 10 years of supervision. Schmidt said drugs have had a major negative impact on the small communities in Southeast Alaska, and a harsh sentence for Gebregiorgis might send a message to others pushing drugs in Southeast Alaska.
“I think those things will help deter future criminal conduct,” Schmidt said, “and at least put people on notice that if you do these things there will be a significant consequence in the future.”
Schmidt also pointed out that Gebregiorgis has also been involved in the drug trade in Lemon Creek Correctional Center while in custody there. Defense Attorney Rex Butler didn’t deny the accusation, but said there’s a great deal of pressure from gangs in many prisons to go along with getting drugs into the prison.
Butler also argued that many of Gebregiorgis’ crimes were a long time ago, and that Gebregiorgis is not some kind of a kingpin who will leave jail and immediately start funneling drugs back into Alaska.
“This is not a sophisticated drug dealer,” Butler said.
Burgess, just before handing down his sentence, pointed out that even after being found guilty, Gebregiorgis has not admitted his involvement in the drug ring and has not said anything about being regretful. Burgess also said it’s a red flag that Gebregiorgis was involved in drugs while in prison for that very charge.
“It also underscores a lack of awareness and lack of contrition for the conduct in which he was involved,” Burgess said.
Juneau man sentenced in meth case
After pleading guilty in October 2017 to one count of conspiring to sell meth in Juneau, Christian John Peters was sentenced Friday to two and a half years in prison. He was also sentenced to five years of supervised release.
By signing the plea deal, Peters admitted to having a package of meth delivered to his and Spaulding’s home at 427 Fourth St. on Aug. 9, 2017. The package came from California, according to the plea deal, and included 221 grams of meth, which Schmidt called “a significant amount for Juneau.” The two of them accepted the package, Peters admitted in the plea agreement, knowing that it contained meth.
In an emotional hearing, multiple family members spoke at length about how caring, supportive and successful he was before he fell into drug addiction. Peters, clearly emotional as his mother and wife (who also read letters from Peters’ daughters) talked about how good it has been to see him sober over the past 10 months since his arrest.
His co-defendant, Tiffany Jo Spaulding, also pleaded guilty and will be sentenced July 6.
Man sentenced to three years after drug bust
Juneau man Carlos Zavala-Flores, 39, was sentenced Friday to three years in prison and five years of supervised release after pleading guilty to trying to bring large amounts of cocaine and marijuana to Juneau in 2017.
Schmidt said the amount of cocaine — more than six pounds — is a very large amount for the small community of Juneau, calling it “one of the larger amounts we’ve seen in a long time.” Schmidt recommended a sentence of four years in prison with five years of supervised release.
Lopez-Villareal, 27, and Zavala-Flores conspired between Jan. 9, 2015 and April 26, 2017, to distribute cocaine and marijuana, according to the plea agreement.
According to the men’s plea agreements, Zavala-Flores told others prior to April 19, 2017 that Lopez-Villareal was placing an order for drugs in the Lower 48. On April 19, 2017, according to their plea deals, the two men flew down to the Lower 48.
Zavala-Flores and Lopez-Villareal were pulled over April 26, 2017 near Medford, Oregon, for several traffic violations, according to the plea agreement. At the time, according to the plea agreement, the car contained 22 pounds of marijuana, 6.8 pounds of cocaine and $6,750 in cash. The plan was purportedly to take the car (a 1999 gray Chevrolet Tahoe with California plates) onto a barge in Washington and bring it up to Alaska to sell the drugs.
Zavala-Flores had been implicated as an informant in a 2011 drug deal in Juneau that sent two twin brothers to prison. He subsequently pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of possessing a controlled substance.
Lopez-Villareal’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 20, according to online court records.
Seattle man gets ‘exceptional sentence’ after showing progress
In considering the case of Seattle man Iosia Mane Faletogo, Burgess looked back at numerous drug offenders he’s seen over the years. Time and time again, Burgess said, he sees defendants pledge to stay out of trouble after their sentence only to end up back in court.
“I think he’s an exception,” Burgess said of Faletogo, “and warrants an exceptional sentence.”
Faletogo, 35, pleaded guilty to distributing heroin and meth to Petersburg, but Burgess did not give any jail time to Faletogo.
Instead, Burgess sentenced him to five years of supervised release.
Assistant Federal Defender Jamie McGrady wrote in her presentence report that Faletogo’s criminal activity was the result of a string of poor fortune. Faletogo suffered an injury at work, and then the mother of his children lost her job, McGrady wrote.
Faletogo had some legal troubles when he was younger, both McGrady and Schmidt said during Thursday’s hearing, but it had been a long time since then. Since his conviction, Faletogo has stayed clean and has done everything right, both attorneys pointed out. McGrady said Faletogo hasn’t had so much as a parking ticket.
Burgess took on a hopeful tone for much of Thursday’s hearing.
“I think sometimes in this process we lose sight of the fact that people are capable and can in fact reform and turn their life around. … It’s a hard fact to recognize sometimes,” Burgess said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.