ANCHORAGE - Although two recent busts are a mere drop in the bucket of illegal alcohol sales, a reward program is being credited with increasing seizures of bootlegged liquor in rural Alaska.
Last October, 13 bottles of whiskey never made it to the dry village of Kivalina. Nine bottles of rum failed to reach Goodnews Bay last week. Alaska State Troopers seized both shipments.
So far in 2003, troopers have confiscated almost 3,100 liters of liquor, nearly twice the volume seized in 2001.
Troopers attribute at least part of the increase to a reward program that began last year and pays $50 to $600 for tips on bootlegging activity that result in confiscating booze. The bigger the bust, the bigger the reward, said Lt. Hans Brinke of the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement, a division of the troopers.
"I don't think we have quite the manpower to win the war" on illegal alcohol shipments to the Bush, Brinke said, "but we can make a dent."
Alcohol fuels many of the social woes in rural Alaska, contributing to some of the highest rates in the nation of domestic abuse, sexual assault, accidental death and suicide.
But attempts to rein in alcohol, such as by banning importation or possession in the villages most affected by it, have not stopped the flow. Liquor is available in virtually every community, troopers say, because bootlegging is the most profitable drug business in rural Alaska.
The troopers' 2002 Drug Report notes that $10 invested in whiskey or other spirits in Anchorage is worth $150 or more in small dry villages. A single 750-milliliter bottle can fetch $250.
In contrast, $10 worth of cocaine would bring only $15 in the Bush; $10 of marijuana might bring $40, troopers say.