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Despite audio and video evidence from a drug sting of Ri Dong "Gino" Kuang haggling with a police informant for hundreds of OxyContin pills worth tens of thousands of dollars, the state's attorney and Kuang agreed last week to a misdemeanor plea deal that will put him in prison for no more than a year.
Kuang, 38, was originally arrested and indicted on a felony drug charge for attempting to obtain the drugs with intent to distribute, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His arrest came at a March 19 sting in a room at the Travelodge hotel, where Kuang met with a police informant to buy the drugs in a room under surveillance by law enforcement.
Kuang's haggling, documented in court records, put the pills' value between $35 and $40 each. The Juneau Police Department has said the 80-milligram pills typically have a street value of $160 to $180 each and can go for as high as $250. The prescription medicine treats pain, though recreational users often chew, snort, smoke or inject the crushed pills to increase the "high."
Kuang asked the informant to "take a ride" with him before making an actual exchange, according to court documents. Kuang, an associate and the informant left the room and were arrested outside. Several phone conversations between Kuang and the informant to set up the deal also had been recorded.
Assistant District Attorney Jack Schmidt said several factors weakened the state's case:
The authorities arrested Kuang before a deal was consummated.
Kuang neither took possession of the drugs nor had the money on him when he was arrested.
Kuang's defense was prepared to present evidence that the pills were intended for personal use to feed an addiction rather than for distribution.
Schmidt said Kuang may be able to avoid up to a third of his one-year sentence through good behavior. He avoided directly answering whether he was satisfied with the outcome of the high-profile case.
"Could it have been better? Could we have followed him around? We could have," Schmidt said, adding that the arrest addressed a public safety issue. "We can't have someone running around with drugs. That's why the takedown had to happen at the hotel."
The sting was conducted by a law enforcement partnership made up of the Juneau Police Department, the Alaska State Troopers, the Port of Seattle Police Department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Schmidt said the plea deal secures a conviction, while trials and appeals can be unpredictable.
"The facts are what they are. We can't change what the parameters are. ... It would be a different circumstance if Mr. Kuang was selling drugs and we went in, as opposed to him controlling the situation. He was the one that needed to make the acts to make our case," Schmidt said.
Kuang, who's out on bail and not due to begin his sentence until Aug. 15, spoke briefly with the Juneau Empire about his situation Tuesday.
"I wouldn't wish OxyContin addiction on my worst enemy," he said.
He would not agree to a full interview.
Kuang did purchase a full-page ad in the Empire running on page three today stating remorse over his addiction and offering a public apology to the people in his life and community that he's harmed.
Schmidt expressed some skepticism about Kuang's stance that hundreds of pills could be used for personal use. The state's position was that they were intended for distribution based on the sheer number, though Schmidt added that the defense was prepared to have expert testimony stating that Kuang's drug abuse had escalated to 10 pills a day.
The state prison system offers drug treatment programs, though Kuang's plea deal does not require his participation.
Though rumors abound in Juneau about Kuang's connections to the drug trade, he's been convicted of only one other drug charge. Kuang pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor possession charge in 1998.
He has been in and out of Juneau courts as a defendant in domestic violence cases and civil cases - one tied to the Canton House restaurant he owns in the Mendenhall Valley - since at least 1996, according to the state court records index.
Kuang must report to prison Aug. 15. A $10,000 fine and $5,000 in restitution will be paid out of his bail.
Contact Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.