Comments Off on 19 charged in Erie region methamphetamine investigation

Tiny pills designed to clear up stuffy noses were sought for more sinister purposes by two groups of people who combed local stores for them over the past two years, state drug agents charged Monday.

State and local law enforcement fanned out across western Erie County and Conneaut, Ohio, on Monday morning to begin rounding up 19 people from those groups to face charges of illegally obtaining quantities of pseudoephedrine for use in making methamphetamine.

Eight of the 19 had been arrested as of early Monday afternoon.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly announced the charges as she outlined the 15-month investigation, dubbed “Operation Border Bargains,” during a visit to Millcreek Township on Monday morning.

Kelly said the investigation focused on “organized efforts” to conceal the purchase from local stores of pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter decongestant that is a primary ingredient in making meth.

Evidence presented to a statewide investigative grand jury identified two independent groups that regularly moved meth-making ingredients and the finished drug between Ohio and Pennsylvania, she said.

“This was a concerted effort to elude authorities in both Pennsylvania and Ohio by sending pill shoppers, also known as ‘surfers,’ to stores and pharmacies in numerous communities on both sides of the border,” Kelly said.

Investigators charge that one of the groups was headed by Jeffrey Barnard, 32, of Conneaut, Ohio, who made meth at labs in Ohio with pills supplied by residents of Conneaut, Girard, Albion, Fairview Township and Erie.

Those who supplied Barnard with a 96-count box of pseudoephedrine would typically be paid a half-gram of meth, with a street value of about $60. Other boxes of the cold medicine would net sellers two bags of heroin or up to $20 in cash, according to investigators.

Authorities said the other group was headed by 52-year-old Eldon J. Carlson, of Girard. Investigators said Carlson coordinated the purchase of pseudoephedrine that was then delivered to an unnamed person who manufactured meth in Ohio.

Materials indicating the presence of a meth lab were found in Carlson’s West Main Street apartment on Monday, investigators said. A search warrant was obtained for the apartment, and a team of experts was called in to investigate and dismantle the suspected lab, said Dennis Tobin, regional director of the attorney general’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control.

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