Restaurant proprietor charged in drug bust

Police say Kuong tried to purchase 2,100 pills worth about $500,000

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009

Law enforcement officials made four felony arrests Thursday in Juneau's continued battle against ill-gotten prescription drugs.

"It is a big issue," Juneau Police Department Sgt. Dave Campbell said. "As far as a controlled substance point of view, we probably deal with more issues dealing with OxyContin than any other drug at this point in time."

Juneau businessman Ri Dong "Gino" Kuang, 34, was arrested at about noon at a Mendenhall Valley hotel on a felony charge of attempted misconduct involving a controlled substance.

Kuang was arrested for trying to purchase 600 tablets of oxycodone, at 80-milligrams each, from an informant, District Attorney Doug Gardner said during a bail hearing on Friday in District Court. The court set Kuang's bail at $100,000.

The charge is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a possible fine of up to $250,000.

Oxycodone is an opium-derived analgesic medication prescribed for moderate to severe pain. OxyContin is the name brand of an extended-release form of oxycodone that was first marketed to cancer patients in 1996 by the company Purdue Pharma.

The prescription drug can be ingested in tablet form, crushed and snorted up the nose, smoked or injected intravenously for an intense high that has been compared to heroin. The drug has been in high demand in Juneau in recent years. An 80-milligram pill has an approximate street value of $175 in Juneau, Campbell said, but the price is on the rise.

"We're getting intelligence as recently as a week and a half ago that the price has increased to $250 a pill," he said.

Gardner said in court that the informant had previously sold Kuang between 300 and 600 of the 80-milligram oxycodone pills on five separate occasions. He told the court the value of the drugs - considering a low estimate of 1,500 pills allegedly acquired and the attempted acquisition of 600 more on Thursday - were worth between $378,000 and $525,000 street value, according to police estimates.

"This is a pretty big case for us," Campbell said.

The undercover drug operation was carried out by the Juneau Police Department, Drug Enforcement Agency agents, Port of Seattle Police and the Alaska State Troopers.

In a separate undercover investigation conducted by the four law enforcement agencies, 25-year-old Juneau resident Loretta "Jean" McCutcheon was arrested at about 1 p.m. Thursday at the same hotel on felony charges of misconduct involving a controlled substance and aiding and abetting. The two men in the vehicle McCutcheon arrived in, Dillinger Graham, 27, and Randal Benc, 23, both Juneau residents, also were arrested.

Graham has been charged with misconduct involving weapons and two felony counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance. Benc was charged with felony counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the second degree and aiding and abetting.

Campbell said both investigations are continuing. The vehicles that Kuang and McCutcheon drove to the scene in were each seized as evidence and will be searched, he said.

"Just because we made arrests, it doesn't mean these investigations are over," Campbell said. "If anything it means that even more work now starts because you get search warrants and that leads to more information, and that information leads to more search warrants."

There are still more people that investigators are looking to speak with about the two cases.

"Some of those people we are looking to get information from, and some of those people we may even end up charging for crimes down the road as well," he said. "It's a small town. If a person is going to be dealing drugs here, it's pretty much just a matter of time until they get caught."

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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