BUSTED: Bristol Bay police nab suspected heroin traffickers

Jul 22, 2016

Nathan G. Wegner, 31, and Brandi N. Smith, 27, were found in possession of more than 23 grams of heroin and $6700 cash Thursday at Peterson Point. Wegner escaped custody Friday, but was recaptured within the hour. 

Nathan Wegner, 31, and Brandi Smith, 27, were arrested in Naknek for
Credit BBBPD

Bristol Bay Borough Police seized more than 23 grams of black tar heroin and $6700 in a sizeable drug bust Thursday at Peterson Point. Nathan Grey Wegner, 31, and Brandi Nikole Smith, 27, both of Anchorage, were arrested on felony drug trafficking charges.  

Audio transcript: Nathan Wegner, originally of Naknek, had two outstanding warrants for his arrest from Anchorage authorities. Bristol Bay Borough police officer John Ryshek spent several days trying to find the 31-year-old, who has a lengthy rap sheet with the Naknek court. 

On Thursday evening Rhyshek tracked Wegner down at a fishing site near the Peterson Point cannery. Wegner was hiding in a blue connex van, and resisted arrest. Officer Rhyshek said he had a hard time handcuffing Wegner, and a harder time getting him back to the patrol vehicle. At one point Wegner made a break for his cabin, and he and Rhyshek ended up both going off a four foot high porch and continued their altercation on the ground.

During this struggle, the officer felt a square case inside Wegner’s coveralls. Rhyshek was able to toss that away while the fight went on.

Inside that case, according to police, was a lot of drugs. An inventory turned up 23.3 grams of black tar heroin, 7.2 grams of marijuana, five Suboxone pills, seven Bupropion pills, and paraphernalia for cutting and dealing tar heroin.

“You know we initially weren’t out there to deal with this,” said BBBPD Chief Stan Swetzoff. “We went out there to arrest on several outstanding warrants. So when we found this on his person, it made us pretty happy, because that’s a big chunk of heroin.”

That amount would make up to 233 doses, depending on how it was cut, and could be worth tens of thousands of dollars in Bristol Bay. 

Wegner had $6700 cash on his person. Chief Swetzoff suspects Wegner had been in business for a while this summer.

“I believe he was selling right out of the cabin there by the beach," he said. "When I spoke with his girlfriend, who we ended up arresting, she was saying that they were out here to fish the set net site right there on the beach, but had only fished once in the last month that they’ve been out here. So I think he’s been dealing and that’s how he’s been making all the money.”

Wegner was charged with second degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and resisting arrest. Wegner’s girlfriend Brandi Smith, 27, was also arrested on the felony drug dealing charge, as well as hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence. Police say she tried to hide drug paraphernalia, including some three dozen foil wrappers with heroin residue and 97 hypodermic needles. 

Chief Swetzoff says drug trafficking is, sadly, a perennial problem during a Naknek summer. He said he was glad to see all of this heroin off the streets, and these two behind bars. 

“You know every year this is always an issue. We have several other tips that we’re following leads on, not necessarily involved with these people, but definitely involved in drug dealing in our town, and we’re definitely going after them, for sure.”

The police work did not end with the arrest. On Friday afternoon, according to officer Rhyshek, Wegner asked to go to the Camai clinic, as he was believed to be detoxing badly from drug addictions. At the clinic, he asked to step outside to vomit, did so, then stood up and bolted straight to nearby alders and disappeared.

Police say he then stole an ATV, drove back to his cabin, changed out of his prison orange and white jumpsuit, then took his own ATV towards some destination unknown. Two police officers and a wildlife trooper pursued. Wegner was able to elude capture for close to an hour before he was arrested again by officer Rhyshek near Mile 2 of the Alaska Peninsula Highway.

Police say they will likely add additional charges of vehicle theft, escape, and eluding.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.