Three leaders of a lucrative Sacramento-to-Juneau oxycontin ring conspiracy will be spending the next decade, more or less, in federal prison.
The ringleader of the multi-million dollar conspiracy and two main suppliers of the oxycontin, all from California, were sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Juneau and received hefty prison sentences for trafficking prescription pills to Alaska’s capital city.
Prosecutors say the group’s ringleader, 43-year-old Milan Caprice Thomas, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison, while 31-year-old Richard Melvin Corum received 10 years and 34-year-old Deandre “Dre” Tyron Dantzler received 12 years.
The joint sentencing hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess largely marks an end to the legal proceedings related to the drug enterprise, which was active from 2007 to 2011.
“It was a long investigation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt said in an interview Wednesday, adding the DEA, the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, the Juneau Police Department Metro Drug Unit and the Port of Seattle Police Department helped resolve the case.
The drug ring smuggled tens of thousands of pills, at least 13,000 according to court documents, into Juneau during the five years the conspiracy was active. Given Juneau’s small population, it ravaged the community by fueling drug addiction, prosecutors and DEA agents said.
“This multi-million dollar enterprise submerged Juneau in a sea of addiction,” DEA Special Agent Matthew Barnes said in a statement Tuesday.
Conspirators imported the drugs to Juneau in various ways. They carried it themselves on Alaska Airlines flights, recruited drug mules to carry the pills and shipped them hidden in jars of peanut butter through Fed Ex.
The conspirators sometimes stayed in hotels in Juneau — Thomas and others eventually rented apartments here — and either sold the pills themselves or recruited local drug dealers to do it for them.
The pills sold for a wholesale price and individually. It was a profitable business because conspirators could buy one pill for $13 in California, and turn around and sell it for $60 to $120 in Juneau, according to court documents.
At its peak, the operation was making $2 million a year. Thomas previously said in court proceedings that the demand for oxy in Juneau was so high at that time, they could barely keep up the supply and had to seek other sources of supply.
It was never revealed where Corum, Dantzler or other sources of supply obtained the drugs in such large quantities. A statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alaska on Wednesday merely said the conspiracy acquired the pills “from suppliers in the lower 48 states.” Schmidt told the Empire in an earlier interview that “dirty doctors” who illegally dispense or prescribe the narcotic may be to blame.
Oxycontin is a painkiller that is legal to obtain with a prescription, but because it contains oxycodone, a narcotic, it is listed as a controlled substance.
It’s unknown what percentage or amount of the oxycontin pills in Juneau the drug ring was providing, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt previously said supply “dropped off drastically” since the conspiracy ended in January 2011.
Law enforcement at the Seattle airport eventually caught on to the drug ring’s suspicious behavior and began arresting mules one at a time, while the IRS Criminal Investigation unit picked up on the paper trail.
Thomas and Dantzler, and many others, laundered millions of dollars of drug money from Alaska back to California through bank accounts and wire remittance companies, prosecutors said. Thomas also admitted to setting up a drug front in Juneau — Southeast Alaska Tour Company — to try to conceal drug proceeds.
Some 50 people from both Alaska and California have been arrested in connection to the drug ring over the past several years, Schmidt said.
Thomas was indicted in October 2011 and successfully avoided authorities, landing on the U.S. Marshal’s Most Wanted List. He was finally arrested in Minneapolis in February 2012, and he pleaded guilty as charged to four drug conspiracy and money laundering charges in May 2013.
Dantzler was indicted in January 2011 on one count of drug conspiracy. He was arrested in Sacramento three months later and pleaded guilty.
Corum also was convicted of tampering with a witness for attacking Thomas while both were in custody at the Anchorage jail. Thomas testified against Corum at trial in exchange for leniency at sentencing, as did three other co-conspirators, as part of an agreement with prosecutors.
The maximum penalty Corum could have received was 40 years (20 years for each of the two counts). Schmidt had requested Judge Burgess impose 20.
Dantzler could have gotten up to 20 for the one count he was charged with. Thomas could have received 80 years (20 years for each of the four counts he admitted). Schmidt requested almost nine.
On Wednesday, Schmidt revealed that law enforcement covertly referred to their investigation into the drug ring as “Operation Jack and the Beanstalk.” Schmidt told the Empire he presumed agents called it that because his first name is Jack, and “beans” are slang for oxy pills.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.