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Tribal leader pleads guilty to alcohol importation

Posted: December 17, 2013 - 1:02am

ANCHORAGE — The president of one of two tribal councils embroiled in a village power dispute has pleaded guilty to illegal alcohol importation, saying the three bottles he was trying to transport to his community were intended for his own use only.

Andy Patrick Sr., head of one of the councils in the western Alaska village of Newtok, served three days in jail and was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine following his plea to the misdemeanor charge the same day he was arrested in Bethel last week. According to the criminal complaint, authorities received an anonymous tip that led to the Dec. 11 arrest and seizure of the three bottles of whiskey.

Patrick, 66, said Monday he has no one to blame but himself in trying to fly three 750-milliliter liquor bottles to Newtok, where the sales and importation of alcohol are banned. The bottles were seized from Patrick’s luggage before he was able to depart on a flight from Bethel to Newtok, according to the complaint.

Patrick said his intention was never to sell the alcohol.

“It’s nobody’s fault. It’s my fault,” said Patrick, who added he hopes the case helps others avoid making the same mistake. “This is a big-time wake-up call.”

Patrick’s council is appealing a Bureau of Indian Affairs decision that determined a newer council represents Newtok as far as the agency is concerned.

The Yup’ik Eskimo community plans to move from its current location because of aggressive coastal erosion creeping toward homes. The dispute has stalled millions of dollars in government funds for the relocation effort.

Newtok is one of Alaska’s most eroded coastal villages and the only one that has begun a physical move. Officials estimate the village, 480 miles west of Anchorage, has until the end of the decade before erosion causes severe damage.

In its July ruling, the BIA said required elections were purportedly not held for more than seven years, so the old council had been operating on expired terms. The old council denies the allegations.

The new council members were first elected in October 2012. The following month, members of the old council held another election.

The resulting dispute reached a boiling point in June when the new council got more votes during a community meeting attended by both sides.

That victory carried significant weight in the BIA’s rare intervention. The decision applies to such purposes as bureau funding. The state also has recognized the new council, but its relocation funds probably won’t be dispersed until next spring.

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