An Alaska man is accused of trying to fake his own death to dodge a prison sentence for sexual assault, federal prosecutors say.
Ryan Riley Meganack, 34, and his girlfriend, Ivy Rose Rodriguez, 25, are charged with conspiracy and false distress for allegedly making a bogus call to the U.S. Coast Guard seeking help for a missing person last November.
The alleged disappearing act cost the U.S. Coast Guard about $310,897 and sparked a days-long search and rescue mission in windy winter weather, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska.
Meganack and Rodriguez allegedly orchestrated the plot days before Meganack was scheduled to plead guilty to sexual assault on Dec. 5, 2016. The couple had been planning the conspiracy since September 2016, said assistant U.S. attorney Andrea Hattan.
A commercial fisherman and boat captain, Meganack steered his fishing vessel to an island near Port Graham, then dumped his skiff to make it appear he’d gone missing or died in a boating accident, an indictment states.
The fisherman, who also goes by “Unga,” then picked up Rodriguez in Port Graham, his hometown and a tiny fishing village in south-central Alaska. They allegedly piloted Meganack’s fishing vessel to a tidal lagoon near Port Graham Bay and dropped an anchor before they returned to Port Graham on land.
At the time, the U.S. Coast Guard sent out an alert saying that Meganack was last seen between 1 and 2 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, and that a good Samaritan found his skiff swamped, with the keys in the ignition.
But as the search and rescue mission ramped up, Meganack was allegedly safe in a makeshift campsite near Port Graham.
Rodriguez, who could not be reached for comment, allegedly left Meganack at the site and returned to a residence where she was staying. The next morning, she told one of Meganack’s relatives he was missing, prosecutors say.
The indictment says Rodriguez sent a flurry of Facebook messages to plant the seeds of the fabricated emergency.
At 1:50 a.m. on Nov. 30, Rodriguez wrote one of Meganack’s relatives and said he’d taken off in his skiff, which “wasn’t running right.” She said that Meganack was drinking and had a supply of booze on the boat, the complaint says.
In a second message at 7:35 a.m., Rodriguez wrote the same family member and said she was worried about Meganack. Four hours later, Rodriguez warned that Meganack had not returned home, court papers allege.
Meganack and Rodriguez planned these Facebook messages, knowing his family would report him missing and trigger a search effort, prosecutors say.
At 1:40 p.m., Meganack’s relative replied to Rodriguez, asking whether the Coast Guard had been called. “Not yet,” Rodriguez wrote.
Rescuers from federal, state, and local agencies searched for Meganack between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, 2016. They encountered bad weather conditions that included snow, high winds, and low visibility in the Port Graham area. The whole time, however, Meganack was safe at his campsite, prosecutors say.
Port Graham citizens joined the pursuit, which also included helicopters from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, as well as Coast Guard command center personnel and the Coast Guard Cutter Naushon, a 110-foot patrol boat.
State troopers, acting on a tip that Meganack wasn’t actually missing, cuffed him after finding him in a tent outside Port Graham, the Homer News reported.
Meganack was found with a Norinco rifle, the indictment says. He is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm because of a 2004 sexual abuse of a minor conviction, and a 2006 assault conviction. He faces 10 years behind bars for the charge.
The fisherman also faces five years in prison for the conspiracy charge, and six years behind bars for the false distress charge, Hattan said.
“Upon conviction, they may be found responsible for all costs incurred by the Coast Guard,” Hattan added, referring to the more than $310,000 spent on finding Meganack.
Hatten would not comment further on the case, telling The Daily Beast, “At this point we’re just at the beginning of this case. An indictment is just an allegation.”
Before he allegedly faked his own death, Meganack was scheduled to plead guilty to sexual assault in the third-degree for contact with an adult woman who was incapacitated. After he was caught, he received a sentence of 15 years, followed by a 10-year suspended sentence.
Meganack was originally charged with first-degree sexual assault, and two counts of second-degree sexual assault for an incident in January 2015. According to an arrest warrant affidavit, a female acquaintance told police that Meganack raped her while she was intoxicated in her Anchorage motel room.
The victim told police that Meganack, who is related to the father of her children, was in town and made plans to catch up with her. After dinner and drinks, they returned to her motel with a bottle of Patron. The acquaintances planned to have a few drinks before going out downtown, the affidavit says.
But they never went out. Instead, they did “dabs” of hash oil and took shots of Patron, the woman told Anchorage police.
She told cops that she fell asleep and woke to Meganack assaulting her. “Due to significant intoxication she was unable to immediately leave, and she fended off about [six] more attempts” by Ryan to engage in sexual activity, an officer noted in his report. “She was ultimately able to leave after he fell asleep.”
Police would later record a “wire” conversation between Meganack and the woman, and Meganack admitted to having sex with her while she was passed out, the affidavit states. Meganack “said that he got carried away and agreed that he was just drunk and horny and ‘it had been awhile’ since he had sex,” the affidavit says of the call.
Javier Diaz, the assistant district attorney in the case, told The Daily Beast that Meganack was released on bail over the prosecution’s objection and the objection of the victim, who was concerned for her safety.
“I was very surprised when I got an email from the Coast Guard wanting to discuss this sexual assault case,” Diaz said in an e-mail. “Early on in the case, we had bail hearings where Mr. Meganack was released over our objection and the victim’s objection. I remember part of our concern being how much time he was facing.
“So I wasn’t necessarily shocked that he did not appear,” Diaz added. “But I was shocked at just how far he went to try and avoid being held responsible.”