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Another guilty plea in drug case: Sandoval enters plea in federal court; case was largest meth bust in Ketchikan
Seized cash, drugs and weapons sit on a table inside the Ketchikan Police Department on Oct. 4, 2017. Staff photo by Taylor Balkom

Daily News Staff Writer

The second individual involved in the largest meth bust in Ketchikan's history pleaded guilty to one count of methamphetamine conspiracy in federal court on Thursday.

Alfonso Francisco Sandoval Jr., 31, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Juneau after originally being arrested and arraigned in Ketchikan Superior Court back in October. Arthur Ruben Castillo III, 31, his co-conspirator, entered the same plea on April 11.

As part of both of their plea agreements, which the Daily News received copies of, federal prosecutors agreed to drop a count of possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking that a federal grand jury indicted both men on.

The Thursday plea by Sandoval comes less than a year after the Ketchikan Police Department, Alaska State Troopers and the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency broke up a drug trafficking network involving the two men.

The initial arrest occurred on October 3, after KPD executed search warrants at Ketchikan residences associated with Castillo and Sandoval.

The two men did not live in Ketchikan, though. Both are residents of Fresno, California, and, according to the plea agreements, were working with a network of “co-conspirators” in California to traffic large quantities of drugs into Alaska.

At the time of the initial arrests, KPD invited the press to see the drugs, cash and weapons seized, which were spread out on a table in dramatic fashion. There were bags of meth, heroin, marijuana, thousands of dollars in cash, an AR-15 assault weapon containing armor piercing bullets and multiple high-capacity magazines.

KPD Sgt. Mike Purcell told the Daily News during the October press briefing that the bags of crystal meth on the table amounted to a little over a pound.

“You're looking at probably well over $200,000 worth of methamphetamine alone,” Purcell said.

In addition to the meth, there were a number of bags containing a total of 2.75 ounces of a heroin, with an estimated value of over $70,000.

“I'm running kind of lower numbers, being conservative,” Purcell said of the cost estimates.

Also spread out on the table in the KPD briefing room were rows of cash that was seized during the raid, amounting to $16,465.

Alongside the cash and drugs was an AR-15-style assault weapon, a .44 magnum revolver and four high-capacity magazines that were found in a utility room of one of the residences that were searched during the operation.

Purcell said that investigation into the trafficking had been months in the making.

Following the federal grand jury indictment on Oct. 17, KPD Sgt. Andy Berntson told the Daily News that the scale and scope of Castillo and Sandoval's drug trafficking caught the eye of the feds.

“These guys are obviously a significant source for our area and it got the attention of the federal prosecutors,” Berntson said. “And so they decided — well, all of us basically decided together — to turn that case over to the federal system.”

According Sandoval's plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court, “Sandoval became a member of a drug trafficking conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine in Ketchikan, Alaska.”

“Castillo coordinated and directed the distribution of methamphetamine in Ketchikan for the conspiracy, as well as collection of drug proceeds from co-conspirators for the sale of drugs in Ketchikan and for payment of drugs obtained from the Lower 48,” Sandoval's agreement reads.

Sandoval's agreement goes on to read that, “during Sandoval's involvement in the conspiracy, he facilitated the distribution or possessed with the intent to distribute, at least 588.38 grams of actual methamphetamine and at least 75.9 grams of heroin.”

“Between the dates of the conspiracy, Castillo distributed or possessed with the intent to distribute, at least 754.74 of actual methamphetamine and at least 75.9 grams of heroin,” Castillo's plea agreement reads.

The factual basis detailed in the federal case states that Castillo set the price to sell an ounce of meth at $2,000 for customers in Ketchikan and either personally shipped, or had his co-conspirators in California ship, the drugs through the U.S. Postal Service.

Castillo then used “wire remittance services to send drug proceeds to co-conspirators in California.

Details of the identity of those “co-conspirators” is not made clear in either of the two men's plea agreements.

The Daily News reached out to Public Affairs Officer Chloe Martin of the U.S. Attorney's Office asking whether those co-conspirators were part of a larger organized drug cartel or street gang, but she said that she couldn't discuss beyond what's in the public record, and thus could not answer that question.

Also listed in both plea agreements was an outline of the civil forfeiture of the money and weapons recovered during the arrests.

• $14,265 in U.S. currency seized on Oct. 3, 2017.

• $2,200 in U.S. currency seized on Oct. 3, 2017.

• Anderson Manufacturing, AM-15 rifle.

• Taurus .44 magnum revolver.

• Ammunition, magazines and a .44 magnum holster.

• .223 and .44 magnum ammunition.

According to Martin, Castillo is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 21, while an Oct. 4 sentencing is planned for Sandoval.

Each man faces up to life in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years. In addition, the two can be fined up to $10 million as part of the statutory penalties outlined in the plea agreements.