Rayne Aukongak found guilty of drug dealing
On June 29, a 12-person jury found Rayne Aukongak guilty on four counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third degree, including possession and distribution of heroin.
Aukongak was arrested on January 12, 2017, about four months after an informant allegedly purchased oxycodone pills once and heroin three times from him in late August and early September 2016. At trial, District Attorney John Earthman presented testimony from Mary Ahnangatoguk who had purchased the drugs as a confidential informant, and Trooper Garret Frost, who was in charge of the investigation, to link Rayne Aukongak to the transactions. Their testimony was corroborated by audio and video recordings made during the drug deals.
Aukongak’s attorney, Public Defender Zachary Davies, framed much of his case around the idea that the informant, Mary Ahnangatoguk, had collaborated with law enforcement to avenge Aukongak for an incident involving her child. Davies implied that Ahnangatoguk set Aukongak up, which also violated her contract with the troopers, which prohibited the use of the informant position to resolve personal matters.
Davies also argued that drugs, especially in the amounts that are typically sold, could have very easily been concealed. In his testimony, Trooper Garret Frost conceded that Ahnangatoguk had been searched before and after the transactions by people who were not specifically trained in looking for controlled substances and that the troopers had not searched her truck. However, Frost said, it is impossible to check everywhere, especially with material as small as pills, especially in an area as large as a truck.
The defense characterized a video taken with a security camera during a transaction at Norton Sound Regional Hospital as “high definition evidence of nothing,” because the truck’s license plate was not visible and there were no photos of him driving it. “The video doesn’t clearly depict me,” Aukongak claimed. Yet both Frost and Ahnangatoguk testified that he was, in fact, the driver.
The blue Dodge Dakota became a point of contention. Despite video footage of the vehicle pulling into the NSHC parking lot at approximately the same time as text messages between Aukongak and Ahnangatoguk indicated he would arrive, Aukongak and his lawyer insisted that it was not his truck. The video did not capture the license plate number, but it did depict a white breast cancer awareness sticker, which Nome Police Sgt. Preston Stotts testified matches one on the tailgate of Aukongak’s truck.
Aukongak also argued that he did not have a cellphone, so there are no cellphone records associated with the transactions. However, in a recording made September 9, a male voice that both Ahnangatoguk and Frost identified as Aukongak’s said “hit me up on Becca’s phone,” referring to his girlfriend Rebecca Pikonganna. Aukongak admitted that the voice in the tape sounded like his, but claimed that it was not really him but rather a “mimic.” He said that the voice “could have been anyone,” who used an online voice-altering device based on videos of him speaking found on his Facebook page.
In another recording, the same voice said that he was going to go “burn.” Burning is a slang term for heroin use, as the tar-like substance is often melted into a liquid and injected. In response to these allegations, Aukongak claimed that he had never used heroin, and the only times he had seen the drug were during the trial in this case and on television. In other recordings he asked Ahnangatoguk “how much you need” and said that he can give her “three,” meaning three packages of heroin. Again, he testified at trial that the voice was not his, but a mimic.
During one buy, Frost identified Aukongak in a car with Yvonne Aukon, whom Ahnangatoguk testified she bought heroin from during one of the transactions. Earthman argued that Aukongak was complicit in the act because he was in the car. “His conscious objective was to put heroin into the hands of his customers.” Aukongak said he knew Aukon, who was picked up on drug charges in May 2017, but that he had not been with her in September.
Frost testified that the foil packages, or “bindles” he received from Ahnangatoguk after her meetings with Aukongak were typical for heroin distributed in Nome.
Derek Walton, a forensic scientist with the Alaska Scientific Crime Lab, confirmed that the pills were oxycodone and the substance inside the foil was heroin. He did not fingerprint or DNA test either substance, so he could not verify their source. The amount matched the normal unit of sale for heroin of 0.1 gram.
In his closing argument, Earthman urged the jury to find Aukongak guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. He encouraged members of the jury to use their common sense, calling the mimic argument “complete nonsense.” “That’s his truck, that’s him on the video, that’s him in the recordings, that was him who turned over all those drugs…it wasn’t a mimic or a setup,” Earthman reiterated. The jury agreed, returning its verdict in less than an hour.
Sentencing is scheduled for October 19 at 3:30 p.m. in the Nome Court House. Earthman said he is not sure what he is going to ask for yet, but in order to provide a strong deterrent, it will be “a pretty important number.”
This is not Aukongak’s first felony drug conviction. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to misconduct involving a controlled substance for distributing oxycodone. At the time, that was a Class A felony, for which jail time ranged from five to eight years. However, Senate Bill 91, also known as the Criminal Justice Reform Bill, passed the legislature and has changed the law that governs sentencing times and crime classifications. It lowers the amount of time a non-violent offender, such as Aukongak, will spend behind bars.
Now, selling heroin is a Class C crime and first-time offenders typically spend no time in jail. But because of Aukongak’s prior conviction for a more serious crime (even though it was for the same behavior), he is looking at up to five years for each charge. Therefore, he could face a maximum of 20 years, though Earthman said that imposition of the full time would be highly unlikely.