Authorities found six grams of heroin they believe Cherilyn Serradell was hiding in a body cavity; Vaughn Clark, 37, allegedly arranged the shipment to Dillingham.
Earlier this week, KDLG News reported that Cherilyn Serradell, 27, of Anchorage, was arrested after she arrived at the Dillingham Airport with small amounts of black tar heroin on her person. A tip from a confidential informant had led the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team to believe that a significant shipment of heroin was inbound to Dillingham Saturday evening, but initial searches found only the "user" sized amounts on Serradell.
Investigators believed she was concealing more heroin inside a body cavity, which was eventually discovered while Serradell was in custody at the Dillingham jail. Authorities filed an additional charge against Serradell for intending to distribute the heroin; they also allege that the smuggling attempt was arranged from Anchorage by 37-year old Vaughn Clark.
KDLG's Dave Bendinger reports:
DILLINGHAM: When the evening Anchorage-to-Dillingham flight arrived on Saturday September 14th, WAANT Investigator Nasruk Nay was watching closely. A confidential informant had told him that Vaughn Clark, 37, was attempting to smuggle heroin to Dillingham, and might be using a female courier to do so.
Inv. Nay watched as Clark’s 18-year old daughter, who was also closely watching the arrivals, approached a female passenger who’d just collected her luggage.
Nay moved in, and seized the bags of 27-year old Cherilyn Serradell until a search warrant could be obtained. Serradell was told she was free to go, but before she left the airport, she asked permission to grab a few belongings from a purse. Of course, said Nay.
"When that was being done, I observed drug paraphernalia and what appeared to me to be a small amount of black tar heroin," said Inv. Nay, in an interview with KDLG News.
The drug paraphernalia was a 10-pack of new syringes, often used to shoot heroin, though that's not a common means of ingestion in Dillingham.
"I'll stress that my observation of what was in that purse was based on her request to dump things from one purse to the next," said Nay, adding, "she kinda did that to herself."
Serradell was arrested, and taken to jail in Dillingham. A search done by a female employee discovered another small amount of heroin hidden in Serradell's bra. Neither amount constituted what Nay had been led to believe was being smuggled in.
Suspecting Serradell may have more heroin concealed in a body cavity, corrections officers kept her under close watch.
Just after Serradell used an employee restroom at the jail, a cellophane bundle was found stuffed into the toilet paper dispenser. Inside the cellophane was six grams of black tar heroin.
"Depending on how much each dose was to be, whether it's point-oh-six grams, or a tenth of a gram, this was between sixty doses and one hundred doses of heroin," said Nay.
The street value of heroin in Dillingham is understood to be $100 per dose. If cut to .10 grams per, the discarded bundled of heroin was worth some $6,000. Cut smaller, to .06 grams per, it's would've been worth more like $10,000.
The cellophane bundle containing the additional six grams was found Monday. Authorities believed at the time that there may have been more in another of Serradell's body cavities, what Nay said is an all too-familiar means of smuggling drugs.
"In this day and age, illegal drugs, the hard drugs that are compact and small ... at the consumer level, they have to know those drugs probably came another person's bodily orifice before they hit the street," said Nay.
Authorities lacked a search warrant to investigate further. They kept the 24-hour watch on Serradell, and continued their wait. Eventually all things came to pass, and no more heroin was discovered.
Serradell called Vaughn Clark from jail. The 37-year old Clark, originally from Clark's Point and Dillingham, now lives in Anchorage.
Phone calls from jail can be monitored by authorities, and Nay listened to the conversation between Seradell and Clark. He said the two spoke of Serradell's getting busted, and that Clark was angry with her for having personal use heroin on her at the airport after he'd told her not to.
According to the police report, Clark told Serradell he would get her bailed out, but he never did.
Inv. Nay believes Clark arranged the smuggling attempt, and he's confident the evidence will show it. The investigation started with a tip from a confidential informant that implicated Clark, then Nay watched Clark's daughter approach Serradell at the airport, listened to their phone call, and talked to Clark himself on the phone afterwards. Nay filed a class B felony charge against Clark for conspiring to distribute the heroin, and an arrest warrant was issued.
Still at large in the Anchorage area, Clark spoke with KDLG News Wednesday afternoon. He repeatedly stressed that though he may have known about Serradell's actions, he had nothing to do with it beyond advising her on how to avoid getting caught.
"I was just trying to help a friend out who was trying to go to Togiak to wean herself off of a bad drug. She was taking personal use, a small amount, to wean herself off, and I'm sorry I helped her," said Clark. "I was just trying to help someone clean themselves up, cause if she's stuck out here, she told me she was going to end up dead anyway. So I was just trying to help her go to the village, clean up, dry out."
Clark said if he had wanted to smuggle drugs to town, he would have done it himself.
Clark admits that he is heroin user. He said his path to heroin started with an addiction to pain pills the hospital prescribed him for chronic back pain and arthritis in his neck and shoulders. Two years ago, he said, the hospital "cut off" his pain medications, and a friend led him to heroin as a substitute.
Now he is surrounded by a dangerous circle of users in Anchorage, the group he said Serradell was hoping to escape. Drugs are ruining his life, and leading to the deaths of friends and loved ones.
"It killed my kid's mother," he said. "She got fungal disease associated from it, and it caused her to have an infection and she died."
That people attempt to smuggle drugs to Dillingham is no mystery to Clark. The math, he said, is too good to ignore: a single gram of heroin in Anchorage costs $200, and that same gram can be turned around for $1200 to $1500 in Bristol Bay.
Despite a recent uptick in drug busts by authorities, that profit margin continues to entice the risky smuggling attempts.
The six grams seized this week is a significant amount, but Investigator Nay is skeptical that it will put much of a dent in the available supply. Nay has been running down new leads 24/7, and several key busts have been made in last few months, though he's reluctant to take credit.
"This is a cooperative effort," he said. "Yes, my office plays a role, but I have excellent counterparts in Anchorage, and I work daily with the local police, vpso's, and troopers in the region, and there's a growing network of people willing to provide information to us to help stop the drug activity."
Nay does admit that he has lately noticed the community's support for law enforcement's efforts.
"I've gotten lots of random 'thank you's' and handshakes wherever I've gone in the past couple of weeks," he said. "A common theme I'm hearing from people who approach me is 'I have kids that I'm raising in this town and I don't want that [drug activity] around here'."
That the community's attitude towards the drug problem may be turning more proactive was evidenced Thursday afternoon at the courthouse in Dillingham.
Serradell was scheduled for arraignment on the more serious charge of intent to distribute the heroin, a class A felony, at 4pm. A posting on the Facebook "Dillingham Trading Post" site called for community members to show up to court to send a message in support of law enforcement and against the drug dealers.
"We're here to say 'enough is enough'," said organizer Patty Luckhurst. Her posting received over a hundred "likes", and more than 20 people, kids and adults, showed up in court.
Judge Patricia Douglass arraigned Serradell on the new charge, and to murmurs of support from the crowded courtroom, raised Serradell's bail to $15,000. Serradell is facing a maximum of 20 years in jail.
Clark is aware of the warrant out for his arrest, but as of Thursday evening had yet to turn himself in to Anchorage police.