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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 24, 2005

Big Island raids net largest drug seizure

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Big Island police and federal authorities are wrapping up a long series of drug raids that Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna said resulted in the largest seizures of cash and methamphetamine of any single operation in the department's history.

"Operation Capsize" resulted in police seizing 24 pounds of methamphetamine, and broke up at least three major drug rings that police believe were responsible for importing and selling more than half of the methamphetamine circulating on the Big Island, Mahuna said.

Mahuna said the organizations each had their own distribution networks and smuggling pipelines to get drugs from California to the Big Island. The volume of drugs being shipped suggests some shipments were forwarded from the Big Island to Maui and O'ahu for sale, Mahuna said.

"You're talking about people doing at least multi-pounds a month, at least eight to 10 pounds a month," Mahuna said. "These are not small-time ounce dealers or gram dealers, these are the top echelon of the drug smuggling operation" in Hawai'i.

"It's a major impact on the distribution of ice here."

The smugglers used couriers or concealed drugs in vehicles shipped from the Mainland, and in at least one case meth was hidden in the feed compartment of a cattle container shipped to the Big Island, he said.

Police served 44 search warrants in connection with the operation, and so far have made 39 arrests, Mahuna said.

Authorities seized more than $430,000 in cash, and Mahuna said the drugs seized in the raids would have a retail street value of more than $1 million. Police also confiscated 31 firearms and 44 grams of cocaine in the raids, he said.

The operation began in April 2004, with Big Island police learning of the distribution networks through informants and undercover drug buys, he said.

The organizations were generally independent of each other, and each had different sources for drugs, but they did business with one another, Mahuna said.

Police asked for federal help when they realized the operations extended out of state, Mahuna said. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement contributed help that Mahuna said was invaluable.

Thus far there have been a dozen federal charges in connection with the raids, but no state charges have been filed yet. Mahuna said county officials are waiting to see which cases the U.S. Attorney's office will select for federal charges, and the county will prosecute the rest.

The federal charges filed in connection with the operation include:

• Last month Jose Diaz of Oakdale, Calif., was charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Federal court documents characterized Diaz as a "high-quantity methamphetamine distributor" in Hawai'i.

Also charged were Alfred "Poch" Nobriga Jr. of the Big Island and Chandra Pounds, described by authorities as one of several female couriers Diaz used to smuggle drugs from California to Hawai'i.

Diaz was accused of smuggling more than 20 pounds of methamphetamine to Hawai'i from October to May, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.

Diaz allegedly used cattle containers to ship the drugs, but later began to use women who concealed a pound of methamphetamine on their bodies and traveled to Hawai'i, the affidavit said.

• In April, Keith Imai of Hilo was charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute meth for allegedly making a series of four sales from December to February.

Federal court documents allege Imai made the sales from his business called Power Train of Hilo.

Also indicted in that case were Jeffrey Kama, 43, Shawna Kaulukukui, 27, and Michael Miyasato, 41.

• A May 26 federal grand jury indictment alleged Eric Castro, Audwin Aiwohi, Randy Aiwohi, Kale Ornellas and Shawn Aguiar also conspired to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

The indictment alleges that in March, Castro hid 8 1/2 pounds of methamphetamine in a 1994 Jeep Cherokee that was shipped from California to Hawai'i.

It also alleges Aguiar, who is also known as "Rivers," shipped $125,000 from Hawai'i to California in April in a cattle container.

Aguiar allegedly received received 9 pounds of meth from Castro, and then shipped the drugs back to Hawai'i in a cattle container the same month, according to the indictment. Aguiar then allegedly distributed the drugs to Audwin and Randy Aiwohi, and to Ornellas, according to the indictment.

Reach Kevin Dayton at (808) 935-3916 or kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.