Teens charged in theft of $189K at Kivalina store

ANCHORAGE — Two teenagers have been charged with burglarizing $189,000 from a northwest Alaska village store that had loaded up with currency in anticipation of people cashing Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks.

Brandon Swan, 18, and Robert Swan, 19, are jailed in Kotzebue. They face charges of burglary, theft, criminal mischief and tampering with evidence.

Alaska State Troopers told the Anchorage Daily News that the cash, much of it in 20s and 100s, was reported missing Thursday from the Kivalina Native Store.

There are few places to spend money in Kivalina, a community of 370 on the Chukchi Sea about 625 miles northwest of Anchorage. The village is off the road system and the Kivalina Native Store is the only retail outlet.

Stone said burglars likely used a pry-bar to get in. A safe holding the money may have been left unlocked.

“These guys are not safe-crackers,” he said.

The store closed after the theft. The burglars damaged video surveillance equipment and stole tobacco and other items.

Multiple tips led investigators to Brandon and Robert Swan, whom Stone said are cousins.

“When the store was closed the whole community was ready to give them up,” Stone said.

Troopers arrested both teens Saturday. They recovered much of the cash, which had been placed in bags and hidden in various locations.

“They buried some and some they hid under houses,” Stone said.

About $17,000 remains at large and other people may have received stolen cash.

“There’s going to be other people charged,” Stone said.

The burglary continues an eventful few months for Kivalina.

Heavy rain storms raised the water level in the Wulik River and knocked out a portion of the three-mile PVC pipe that supplies the community water purification and storage system. School was delayed five weeks while crews made repairs.

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