Sends Strong Message to Violators
December 13, 2003
"This is a tribute to the initiative of the State Troopers and the desire of Noorvik citizens to keep alcohol out of their community," said Assistant Attorney General Andrea Russell, who prosecuted the case. "This is the first trial to occur in Noorvik since 1986, and the jury sent a strong message to other bootleggers."
Russell said jury trials can be difficult in rural villages where most potential jurors know the defendant or are the defendant's friends and family. Each juror in Noorvik, which became a "dry" community in 1987, promised to return a guilty verdict if Russell presented enough evidence.
"You could tell it was difficult for the jurors to return a guilty verdict since Kagoona and his family are well known in the community, but they did," she added.
All over Alaska, prosecutors and Alaska State Troopers are getting tougher on bootleggers. When they arrest a violator, troopers seize the vehicles used to import the alcohol, as well as alcohol itself. Prosecutors are seeking maximum monetary penalties, jail time, and requesting courts to require bootleggers to forfeit snowmachines and other vehicles used in the crimes. Russell usually asks judges to assess fines based on the "village value" of the alcohol seized, which is $100 per bottle in Noorvik and is often much higher in other communities.
"This is a big step - going after the snowmachines," Russell pointed out. "It has a different deterrent impact."
Thanks to federal grant money, the Department of Law and the Alaska State Troopers each have positions dedicated solely to catching and convicting bootleggers. The Attorney General has two bootlegging prosecutors one located in Anchorage and the other position in Bethel.
"It is very important for the state to uphold the wishes of 'dry' communities by prosecuting those who bring alcohol into them," Attorney General Gregg Renkes commented. "Alcohol abuse continues to be a troubling problem for many Alaskans, and bootleggers only make the problem worse."
Russell believes Kagoona's conviction will send a stronger message to rural Alaskans since the verdict came from local people in the Noorvik community. She admitted it was difficult to stage a trial in such a remote area, but was pleased with the results.
Russell discovered her first difficulty when trying to determine the last time Noorvik held a trial. Court personnel and community members traced it back to the mid 1980s. The lack of traditional trial facilities further complicated the issue. Russell stayed in the library at the local elementary school and used the teacher's lounge kitchenette for cooking in the absence of hotels and restaurants. They held the trial in the community center.
"The people in Noorvik were very accommodating," Russell said. "The city administrator and school principal were very helpful."
Kagoona is not only well known to community members, he is also well known to law enforcement officers. He has been arrested and convicted of numerous past offenses, but never tried in his hometown. Kagoona's record lists 23 prior convictions, including two felonies for drugs and larceny. However, most of his convictions are alcohol-related, including multiple assaults, and 6 DWIs.
In this case, acting on an
anonymous tip last April, Alaska State Trooper Rex Leath traveled
by snowmachine to Noorvik and waited on a trail over an hour
for Kagoona to arrive. Leath intercepted Kagoona on his snowmachine
between Kotzebue and Noorvik with 13 bottles of hard liquor in
his backpack - one bottle short of a felony.
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