Quyana Cab Company pleads guilty to bootlegging alcohol

Alaska Troopers searched homes and cabs in Bethel’s Trailer Court on June 7, 2016 to find evidence of illegal alcohol sales. (Photo via KYUK)

Another chapter in the Bethel cab drivers bootlegging scandal ended this week. On Tuesday, Quyana Cab pled guilty to selling alcohol without a license and agreed to pay a fine of $25,000. 

Back in 2015, Alaska State Troopers, along with FBI agents and Bethel Police, went undercover after hearing for years that Bethel cab drivers were selling alcohol illegally. The law enforcement agents confirmed the rumor by making no less than 50 alcohol purchases while undercover. Eighteen cab drivers from various Bethel cab companies were charged with bootlegging, in addition to the Quyana Cab Company. 

The maximum fine the company faced was $500,000. In 2017, Quyana Cab pled not guilty to all charges. On Tuesday, the State of Alaska offered a plea deal. Quyana Cab’s attorney, Heather Sia, said that it was an offer the company could not refuse. The plea deal consolidated 15 counts of bootlegging into one, and capped the maximum fine at $25,000. Judge Terrence Haas supported the $25,000.

“I don’t think Quyana Cab stands out in the grand scheme of things as one of the great profiters of bootlegging,” Haas said.

Earlier, Sia argued that Quyana Cab drivers only transported customers to the real bootleggers and had not profited off the sale of alcohol themselves. Sia said that this was common practice among Bethel cab drivers from all companies.

“What they were trying to do is keep their customers in a fierce environment,” Sia said.

Judge Haas agreed that Quyana Cab should not be the scapegoat for the entire alcohol crisis in Bethel and the surrounding villages. However, he said the company had turned a blind eye to its drivers’ role in the illegal sale of alcohol, and that merited significant punishment. With that, he capped the fine and imposed the maximum fine under that cap: $25,000.

This decision comes several months after former Quyana Cab Company co-owner Min Sook Cha was sentenced to 10 days in jail and another year on probation for illegal alcohol sales.