What this cash-filled fish box says about the Alaska drug trade

 Photos of the currency-filled fish box, filed as evidence in an ongoing civil forfeiture case.
Photos of the currency-filled fish box, filed as evidence in an ongoing civil forfeiture case. (KTUU)
Published: Dec. 5, 2017 at 3:59 PM AKST
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The weight was the thing. A few fillets of sockeye salmon shouldn’t have been so heavy.

So when a shipping company was asked to send the unassuming wax container from Kodiak to its intended destination of Cave Junction, Oregon, the Anchorage parcel carrier X-rayed the box. Something was, indeed, fishy. Soon, the DEA arrived with a drug-detecting dog named Chevron.

Trained to "alert" to controlled substances, the dog indicated drugs -- in this case, money that had allegedly come into contact with drugs -- were inside the box. Authorities opened the container to find $139,630 in $100 and $20 bills.

"There were kind of token pieces of salmon thrown in," said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Barkeley.

That was in July, 2016. Now the case of the cash-filled fish box is working its way through federal court. Not as a criminal indictment, but a civil asset seizure case intended to take ownership of the money, which U.S. Attorneys argue is the proceeds from an unlicensed THC extraction enterprise.

The man accused of shipping the box from Kodiak also had been the intended recipient of a 15-pound marijuana shipment from Oregon in 2015, federal attorneys claim. Following the shipments of cash and drugs, the Kodiak man was named by a tipster as a dealer of cocaine and unlicensed marijuana that originates in California, according the complaint filed in Anchorage court.

“One of the problems in terms of making a criminal case out of that is that the incidents were a couple of years apart,” Barkley said.

A former geologist, Barkley has worked in Alaska for more than 20 years. The fish box case is indicative of how drugs sometimes enter the state, he said.

“People were shipping cocaine to Alaska in the winter, concealed in coolers filled with seafood,” Barkley said. “At the airport … you see big coolers arriving at the wrong time of year and they’ve got things that we already have here like halibut and king crab.”

The shipper, who is not being named here because he has not been charged with a crime, can fight the complaint and argue that the money is not subject to forfeiture. If the U.S. Attorney's office succeeds, the city of Kodiak would be eligible to apply for up to 80 percent of the seized money for local government use.