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Networks, nefarious activity highlighted in drug task force report

News Photo by Julie Riddle Police evidence bags contain, clockwise from top left, 108.2 grams of fentanyl, 100 grams of fentanyl, 65.1 grams of fentanyl, and 85.7 grams of methamphetamine, all seized by Huron Undercover Narcotics Team officers from local residents trafficking the drugs north from downstate during 2021. Seen at the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post on Tuesday.

ALPENA — A quiet, quaint place to live provides inadequate protection from organized drug crime, police say.

Last year, undercover detectives caught 40 people possessing or attempting to deliver methamphetamine, a sharp increase from only three such arrests in 2017 related to the deadly and highly addictive drug.

An annual report produced by the Huron Undercover Narcotics Agency details arrests involving complex networks of dealers importing large quantities of meth and other drugs capable of killing hundreds of Northeast Michigan residents.

In some cases, the dealers target the Alpena area specifically because it’s a quiet, pleasant place to live, said Detective/Lt. Stuart Sharp, HUNT commander.

The numbers included in the annual report may seem small compared to big-city busts or drug crackdowns seen on television, Sharp said.

One arrest highlighted in the report stopped the import of 108.2 grams of fentanyl — enough to cause 54,100 deaths.

“When you have 65,000 people, ounces are substantial,” Sharp said. “Imagine 400 people overdosing at once.”

HUNT investigations led to the arrest of 123 people on drug-related charges in 2021, most of them in Alpena County.

Fewer arrests in other counties don’t mean drug activity doesn’t happen there, Sharp said.

Drug trafficking requires a complex network of connected people in multiple regions of the state to bring north the drugs produced in South America. One drug arrest, wherever the arrest is made, is always tied to other drug crime, Sharp said.

HUNT made the arrest resulting in the seizure of more than 100 grams of fentanyl following a tip that led them to a vehicle headed to Alpena after a trip downstate.

The driver and his passenger were charged with drug delivery after police found the fentanyl and 85.7 grams of meth in false-bottom containers in the vehicle.

In another investigation, HUNT detectives learned an Alpena man had been receiving drugs in the mail from Las Vegas.

The man had been traveling to the city regularly, buying the drugs, and then mailing them to himself, to be delivered the day after he got home.

HUNT intercepted one package before it arrived, finding inside 388 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and two jars of marijuana wax.

A search of the man’s home uncovered LSD, a loaded firearm, and a set of brass knuckles.

Separately, a former Alpena resident living in Pontiac distributing crystal meth back to Alpena, out of prison after previous HUNT arrests, was caught driving 94 grams of crystal meth and drug sale equipment to Alpena County.

That quantity of meth would sell for $9,000 to $10,000 on the street and provide about 750 doses of the drug, HUNT reported.

With the help of multiple phone and website tips, detectives caught another man trafficking more than 100 grams of a fentanyl compound, vape cartridges, and marijuana wax into the Alpena area from Detroit.

HUNT officers afterward stopped an associate carrying more drugs from the same Detroit source. The man told officers he had paid $4,500 toward his associate’s debt to the Detroit dealer and an additional $6,000 for the drugs he’d purchased himself.

The man has since been sentenced to six to 20 years in prison.

While meth was the focus of 79% of the drug cases handled by HUNT in 2021, the task force encountered multiple other drugs, including marijuana sold illegally.

Black market sales make up three quarters of all marijuana sales in Michigan, despite the drug’s legalization in recent years, with much of those sales controlled by organizations that use the marijuana money to fund their sales of more dangerous drugs.

Alpena’s out-of-the-way charm and legal cannabis sales do not protect it from being a part of the illegal marijuana-sale cycle, Sharp said.

In December, HUNT learned of a woman who had moved into Alpena for the purpose of growing marijuana to support the Brotherhood Forever, a white supremacist group closely involved with the Aryan Nation.

The supremacist group’s president, while incarcerated under a life sentence, funded the woman’s move to Alpena from Tennessee, taught her how to grow marijuana, and paid for her continuing operation of the illegal grow.

After HUNT officers arrested the woman and an associate, a HUNT officer provided testimony in a federal criminal trial in Tennessee resulting in the conviction of the gang’s president for several crimes.

Like many current residents, the woman chose to move to Alpena because it’s a nice place to live, Sharp said.

It’s also a quiet corner where large and dangerous crime can go undetected.

“There’s a lot going on here that would blow you away,” Sharp said, describing the sordid and deadly downstate areas into which Alpena residents will travel to purchase the drugs that disintegrate morals and destroy bodies of Northeast Michigan residents.

“Pay attention to the people you love,” Sharp said, tapping on the 2021 report. “Keep them safe from this.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

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