The Dillingham Police Department seized 12.5 grams of heroin and $19,000 cash in a drug bust in the Nerka subdivision Saturday night. The alleged dealer is Joshua G. Rivera, 37, from Anchorage, who is being held on two felony charges and $50,000 bail.
After he flew in to town recently, 37-year-old Joshua Rivera from Anchorage set up shop at the home of Leroy Wallona Jr. at 1845 Nerka Loop. From there, specifically in the upstairs left bedroom, Rivera served his customers from a couple of large chunks of black tar heroin which were hidden in makeup and jewelry cases. He sliced off doses and weighed them on a scale, a tiny tenth of a gram going for $100. How much Rivera sold during his time may not be known, but by the time DPD searched the house Saturday, he had more than $19,000 in cash.
Details of the bust spread around the block Sunday afternoon, with neighbors commenting they were not entirely surprised by the news.
“I live right across the street,” said Priscilla Dray. “There was a lot of traffic coming, especially when it was getting dark, so I would lock my doors and close the curtains.”
Drugs in the Nerka subdivision are not entirely new;Vaughn Clark and his associates reputedly trafficked out of a house at the far end of the street. Still, Dray, a mother of seven girls, said it had been unsettling for parents as suspicion grew that something was going on last week.
“This neighborhood is usually the best place to live in. And I told my girls not to play outside, because there was too much traffic going around,” she said.
A few neighbors quietly called police with their suspicions.
The department already had its eye on Rivera. Chief Dan Pasquariello, a veteran of the cat-and-mouse game of drug trafficking in town, has his officers patrol the airport frequently, watching arrivals and departures for suspected dealers from Anchorage.
These are people, says Pasquariello, who show up in town, lay low at a house often belonging to a known user or lower level dealer, and fly back a few days or a week later. Most of the time, these dealers use PenAir’s normal commercial service. Some fly Dena’ina Air routes to upriver villages, then catch air taxi flights down to Dillingham.
DPD knows some of them, and keeps tabs as they come and go. Chief Pasquariello finds a metaphor in the fishery, with the bigger players arriving from out of town and leaving shortly with their proceeds.
In the drug milieu, Dillingham has a lot of “subsistence” heroin dealers,” he said. “These are local people that sell small amounts of heroin on a sporadic basis to support drug habit. Mr. Rivera is what you could refer to as a “commercial” heroin dealer, a man who comes to our region from out of town to make money.”
Pasquariello extended the fishing metaphor to the way DPD investigates drug cases.
“We receive information all the time from members of the public, and also from people involved with the heroin problem here in Dillingham. When everything comes together, we set out a net to try and catch dealers. We don’t just pull in our net as soon as we see a splash in it, because then you only catch one dealer. Lots of times we like to let the net soak, and catch more.”
Early last week officer Bill Bauer used a confidential informant to make a controlled buy of heroin from Rivera. That provides enough probable cause to build a felony case against the dealer, but DPD often sits on the charge, sometimes for months, to protect the identity of the CI for future buys. In this case, Pasquariello was hoping for information about whomever supplied Rivera.
Instead, sensing Rivera was soon to leave town and might be hard to find later, Pasquariello and Bauer applied for a warrant to search the house Saturday night. Slavi Christmas celebrations were going on elsewhere on the block as seven officers moved in quietly after dark. Hidden where the officers expected to find it was 12.5 grams of black tar heroin, and a lot of cash.
“We seized $18,981, but it’s actually over $19,000. We didn’t count the change, which was in quarters, dimes, and nickels, and probably came from some child’s piggy bank,” said Pasquariello. Included were the marked bills used by the CI.
Throughout the evening, a phone belonging to Rivera continued to ring, and cars continued to roll slowly past the driveway.
“I wasn’t surprised by the names or numbers that were coming up on that phone, no,” said Pasquariello.
The seized cash will remain the Department’s custody as evidence until the case is resolved. The officers believe the identity of their CI was protected, too.
Rivera was booked on two felony charges of second degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Magistrate Judge Tina Reigh ordered him held on $50,000 bail, double what the state had asked for, and set a requirement for a third party custodian. He has a lengthy criminal record including past charges for drugs, theft, and escape from custody, and was on parole in a felony DUI case.