Undercover operation sees 24 Bethel residents charged with illegal alcohol sales

Published: Sep. 8, 2017 at 11:51 AM AKDT
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Two dozen people in Bethel face charges Friday after prosecutors and police say they have been illegally peddling whiskey for years.

According to a news release issued by John Haley, the assistant attorney general, 24 people in Bethel face charges of selling alcohol without a license, with a large majority of them being either cab drivers, or involved in the cab industry.

The crimes allegedly took place during 2015 and 2016, when law enforcement officers conducted undercover sting-type operations, buying alcohol from individuals who did not possess licenses. The investigation was led by Alaska State Troopers with the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team.

According to Haley, "law enforcement officers in Bethel made 50 undercover alcohol purchases [...] forty-seven of the alleged illegal alcohol sales involved on-duty cab drivers."

Prosecutors say that in the majority of the sales, a cab driver sold an undercover officer a single 750ml bottle of R&R Whisky for $50.

Cab companies implicated in the charging documents include Quyana Cab Company, Kusko Cab, Inc., Alaska Cab Company, and Taxi Cab Company.

In total, 18 cab drivers were charged, and those who worked with the drivers to procure and sell the alcohol were similarly charged.

An undercover officer was also allegedly sold three bottles of whiskey by a manager at the Tundra Suites motel. That manager, Neal Gutleben, was also charged in this operation.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Board issues licenses to individuals in order to legally sell alcohol in the state. However, none of those named in the police affidavits possessed such licenses. "The ABC Board vets applicants, inspects facilities, and insures that servers are properly educated on Alaska’s alcohol laws," prosecutors wrote.

According to prosecutors, the maximum penalty for a these alleged crimes is one year in jail and a $25,000 fine, and the maximum penalty for a business convicted of selling alcohol without a license is a $500,000 fine.