Former Fairbanks lawmaker pleads not guilty to drug charge

Jury trial scheduled for first week of February

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008

FAIRBANKS - A former Alaska lawmaker faces a February trial after pleading not guilty to felony cocaine possession.

Nick Stepovich, 51, of Fairbanks entered his plea Tuesday.

Stepovich, a Fairbanks businessman who is active in Republican party politics, was charged with fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance last month after Fairbanks police stopped him and another man behind the Big I Bar.

His attorney requested a jury trial, which is scheduled for the first week of February. He also requested his client, who is free on bail, be allowed to travel to Anchorage for business. Prosecutors didn't object.

According to police, an officer driving behind the bar at around 1 a.m. on Nov. 8 spotted Stepovich and another man standing behind a garbage receptacle and suspected they were using or dealing drugs.

"The two subjects were standing face-to-face and appeared to be holding something," according to a statement in the criminal complaint. "Their hands were in very close proximity to one another and they were both staring down at their hands, or at the object in their hands."

The men spotted the patrol car pulling up and "their faces had the look of panic," according to the complaint.

The two men looked down at their hands and began to walk rapidly back to the bar. Both put their hands in their jacket pockets and it appeared they were trying to conceal something as they walked away, according to charging documents.

The officer directed the men to stop but only Stepovich did so. Stepovich refused to obey the officer's repeated commands to stay where he was and fumbled with his jacket pockets as he walked back to the trash bin, the officer said.

"Stepovich pulled his hands out of his jacket pocketas, and walked around the corner of the dumpster, out of (the officer's) sight, for approximately two seconds," the complaint stated. "When he came back into (the officer's) view, he acted completely at ease and stated to (the officer), 'What's the big deal? I was just going to the bathroom."'

The officer searched and found a small, folded paper packet on the ground near where Stepovich had gone around the corner of the trash bin. There was no fresh snow on top of the packet, indicating it had just been put there, police said.

The man Stepovich was with was contacted inside the bar. He told police he was visiting in Fairbanks and was invited by Stepovich to step outside and snort cocaine, according to the criminal complaint. He was not charged.

Stepovich was carrying more than 11 ounces of gold nuggets worth $8,000 to $9,000.

Stepovich is the son of former territorial Gov. Mike Stepovich.

Nick Stepovich served for one year in the Alaska House of Representatives. Stepovich was appointed to fill the seat of Jim Whitaker, who was elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough in 2003. He was defeated in the 2004 primary by state Rep. Jay Ramras.

He owns Soapy Smith's Pioneer Restaurant in downtown Fairbanks.

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