The arrests do indicate the expanding influence of methamphetamine, said William Crawley, professor of criminal justice and associate dean of Grand Valley State University’s College of Community and Public Service.
West Michigan officials work to clean up the remnants of a meth lab
Crawley also is a member of U.S. Attorney’s Office Project Safe Neighborhoods, a task force focused on anti-gun violence and gang activity. Criminals in Chicago, especially those involved in gangs and drugs, have infiltrated into West Michigan, he said.
The federal sweep on Nov. 14 resulted in six people arrested at various locations in Ottawa County that day and a seventh Ottawa County man who fled taken into custody in Western Pennsylvania and extradited to Michigan. All seven — Sengathith Sybounma, Thavone Khamsouksay, Amanda Jane Dordon, Saengchaenh Sengmany, Amber Mae Dordon, Phetmany Choummanivong Khamnmany Phouangphet — have been charged with methamphetamine conspiracy and related offenses.
All also have records, some of them extensive, according to court documents:
Phouangphet, 37, has charges stemming from incidents in Holland and Park townships dating back to 1999 (when he was ticketed by the DNR for fishing without a license), to more recent infractions: Delivery of controlled substances and delivery and manufacture of meth in 2003, and multiple driving without a license and impaired driving charges. Phouangphet was arrested at the home where his brother Davanh Phouangphet, 31, was accused earlier this year of dousing the landlady with an accelerant and lighting her on fire. Davanh Phouangphet is currently charged with open murder.
Records for Sengmany, 38, include guilty pleas for drunken driving in Holland Township; driving on a suspended license, felonious assault and being a flight fugitive, as well a disturbing and the peace and illegal entry charges in separate incidents in the city of Holland.
Choummanivong, 40, has faced charges from driving without a license to failure to pay child support, fraud, making a false statement to a police officer, domestic violence, assault and battery as well as being an illegal immigrant. He and Phouangphet both currently face federal indictments for illegal entry to this country.
Sybounma, 34, is a convicted sex offender who has pleaded guilty to failure to comply with reporting duties. He was released from prison in March, 2011, after serving a two-year sentence for assaulting a child between the ages of 13 and 15; earlier, he served a two-year prison sentence for an Allegan County break-in.
Khamsouksay, 26, has been to district court twice this year — for driving on a suspended license, to which he pleaded guilty in August, and for operating while intoxicated, for which he also pleaded guilty.
The Dordons, who are sisters, each have been charged with driving on suspended licenses; Amanda, 29, also was charged earlier this year with possession of marijuana, while Amber, 26, was charged in the past as a minor in possession of alcohol.
Off the record, officials said the arrests are welcome — and might have taken some gang members off the street. But none of those indicted were charged with gang activity. Federal officials and local police would not comment on the current cases.
Still, Crawley said, gangs likely are whenever drugs go from being a small operation to one with “a division of labor — marketing, transportation, protection — where in the past, meth might have been done by one or two people who cook and sell it, and those certainly still exist, now we’re seeing across the Midwest that it’s starting to look more like the (U.S) southwest, with large-scale labs.”
What’s important, Crawley said, is that people understand meth’s pervasiveness and ease of manufacture — individuals use two-liter plastic bottles to make the drug — but “it has a really rank smell.”
Residents who detect a strong smell of ammonia “and a lot of traffic” to and from a home are wise to alert police, he said, adding “You’ll smell it two, five houses down if you’re out for a walk.”
Signs of meth use can include frailness, lack of appetite, hollowed-out eyes and possible missing teeth, Crawley said, because meth’s toxic ingredients destroy teeth and cause skin sores. As ugly as meth’s effects are, addiction happens quickly, said Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Harvitt, who leads the West Michigan Enforcement Team.
“Meth is not prejudiced, it will trick anybody who uses it,” Harvitt said. “The first time a user uses, they gain this euphoric high unlike any they’ve ever had. The only problem is, you can never get that high again. You want to get to that point each time you use it the high diminishes. You use more and more and go from being the prom queen to the high school reunion parolee.”
Already this year, WEMET has busted 73 meth labs — well ahead of 2011’s total of 67, Harvitt said, adding that despite the significant arrests in Ottawa County this month, 95 percent of the labs have been found in Allegan County.
“We are getting better at catching them.”