Alaska pilot convicted of alcohol importation

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A 70-year-old Fairbanks pilot faces a potential $1 million fine and jail time after he was convicted of turning a blind eye to 7 gallons of beer carried in his Cessna 206 on a trip to a dry community in Northwestern Alaska.

A six-member jury returned a guilty verdict for both Ken Jouppi, 70, and his business, KenAir, for misdemeanor alcohol importation Friday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Jouppi’s actions amount to willful ignorance of the community alcohol ban. Some of the beer was in a bag.

During two days of testimony, the six jurors heard testimony from Alaska State Troopers, Jouppi and Helen Nicholai, 52, a KenAir client who was carrying cans of Budweiser and Bud Light, about 7 gallons in all, to the dry community of Beaver, where alcohol is illegal.

Nicholai previously pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor alcohol charge and was given a three-day sentence.

“Dry” or “damp” villages are communities that have passed laws banning or restricting the sale of alcohol, where a 750-milliliter bottle can fetch up to $250.

The company faces a fine of between $200,000 and $1 million. Sentencing is scheduled for October.

The misdemeanor trial was an offshoot of a larger bootlegging investigation against KenAir. The trial dealt with the circumstances of April 3, 2012, when prosecutors executed a search warrant on Jouppi’s Cessna 206.

Defense attorneys Nelson Traverso and Robert John asked jurors to question how visible the beer really was. They argued the beer was secured in a box and only visible in photos presented to the jury after the boxes were opened. They asked prosecutors why troopers didn’t save the boxes and bags as evidence to show the jury how the beer was wrapped up.

Asked after the verdict if they plan to appeal, Jouppi’s wife and KenAir co-owner Mary Ames said, “We have plans in place to make sure that justice is done.”

“This isn’t any more just about Ken, this is about the liability about any pilot,” she said.

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