Posts Tagged ‘trafficking’

Mexico’s Gulf drug cartel has allegedly joined up with an unlikely ally to bring illegal drugs, including methamphetamine, over the border and into Texas.

The link between the cartel and the white supremacist prison gang and organized crime group, the Aryan Brotherhood, reveals that Mexican drug trafficking organizations have expanded their business networks into the U.S. prison and street gangs…and that the Aryan Brotherhood is putting business before ideology when it comes to their dealings with the Mexican groups.

“It may seem puzzling that a white supremacist gang would work with a Mexican criminal organization,” wrote Claire O’Neill McCleskey of Insight Crime. “But the collaboration is not unusual for the Aryan Brotherhood. In the California prison system, the Aryan Brotherhood has a longstanding if fluid alliance with the Mexican mafia against black gangs.”

The cartels are looking for partners, bridges, to connect their activities inside the United States, and the supremacists have become an important force on the streets and inside prisons.

– Larry Gaines, gang expert and president of the criminal justice department at San Bernardino State University

 According to the Mexican newswire Notimex, an agent working for the U.S. Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stated that an Aryan Brotherhood member, James Sharron, alias “Flounder,” admitted after his arrest that he worked as a go-between for the group and the Gulf Cartel as well helping bring hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine into Texas from Mexico for distribution.

“The defendant stated that he had some important connections with Mexican drug cartels, specifically the Gulf Cartel and moving hundreds and hundreds of kilos of methamphetamine in the Houston area and was distributed in East Texas,” said Boehning, according to Notimex.

Sharron purportedly began his ties with the cartel after being released from jail in Texas and moving to Mexico about ten years ago.

Earlier this month, 34 members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas were picked up in raids in several cities and charged with conspiracy in an organized crime group.

The Aryan Brotherhood was founded in the 1960s in San Quentin prison in California. It is believed today to have 200,000 members both in and out of prison and, while it makes up only 1 percent of the prison population in the U.S., is allegedly responsible for up to 20 percent of murders in federal prisons.

Despite their racist ideology, the group is known to have ties to the Mexican Mafia prison gang along with Asian gangs that import heroin from Thailand.

The Gulf Cartel, which is in battle with its former paramilitary group the Zetas, has lost much of its power over the last few years and might be looking to shore up its drug transit routes in the U.S. by creating ties with the white supremacist group.

“The cartels are looking for partners, bridges, to connect their activities inside the United States, and the supremacists have become an important force on the streets and inside prisons,” according to Larry Gaines, gang expert and president of the criminal justice department at San Bernardino State University



Fifteen defendants from Springdale were sentenced to a combined 77 years in prison Thursday for a massive Northwest Arkansas drug trafficking scheme.

Multiple state and local law enforcement agencies have been carrying out Operation La Pantera Negra over the last two years, prosecuting 31 suspects over that time frame. Authorities have seized 118 pounds of methamphetamine, $82,000 in cash, 16 vehicles and 12 firearms during the investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

meth bust


In the particular case concerning the 15 defendants, Drug Enforcement Agency agents conducted several undercover meth purchases in February 2011. Officers later recovered 20 pounds of meth from a Fayetteville home.

The following February, agents seized 83 pounds of methamphetamine from a stash house in Dallas, along with $48,000 and six vehicles.

A federal grand jury indicted 15 defendants the next month, on charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and money laundering. All defendants pleaded guilty to various charges.

The main defendants, Celen Zendjas and Eberardo Coria-Hernandez, were sentenced to 28 years and 10 years in prison, respectively.

The other 13 defendants and their sentenced time in prison include:

  • Wilber Alvarenga, 31 – Four years
  • Gregorio Carranza, 28 – Four years
  • Rodolfo Carrillo, 41 – 1 year supervised release
  • Porfirio Castro-Ruiz, 47 – Two years, three months
  • Donna Daosavanh, 24 – Three years
  • Omar Frias, 30 – Three-and-a-half years
  • Dianna Gandert, 28 – Four years
  • Jose Herrera, 26 – Five years
  • Marlene Martinez, 27 – Five years, two months
  • Jose Mejia-Machado, 44 – Seven years
  • Tamera Rivera, 31 – Two-and-a-half years
  • Jeffery Ruano, 26 – One year
  • Ana Vaca-Gomez, 34 – Seven years, three months



BAY COUNTY, FL (CBS ATLANTA) – Two suspects arrested in Florida buying methamphetamine in Atlanta and distributing it in South Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.

The Bay County Sheriff’s Office arrested Shaunder Grace, 39, and Octavius Weston, 30, of Panama City, FL after a month-long investigation.


Narcotic agents attempted to take Grace and Weston into custody at 3325 W. 23rd St. in Panama City when Weston struck one of the investigators and fled on foot. After a foot chase, officer caught up with Weston. He was taken into custody.

Three ounces of methamphetamine in “ice” form and two ounces of powder cocaine were seized according to Bay County Florida Sheriff’s Office.

The investigation indicates that Grace and Weston were living in hotels in Bay County and traveled to the Atlanta area to acquire the meth and “ice” and then distributed it between Albany and Bay County.



PHILADELPHIA — More than two dozen people face charges in a $3.5 million crystal methamphetamine trafficking network that stretched from Mexico to Pennsylvania, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

The drugs came from Mexico and were moved across the border in Texas, authorities said, with as much as a pound of drugs transported into Reading and Philadelphia every two weeks. The drugs were then repackaged in smaller quantities and resold in the Philadelphia area, the Lehigh Valley and north-central Pennsylvania, prosecutors said.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said in a statement that investigators with her office, state police and the Bucks County district attorney’s office used surveillance and court-authorized wiretaps — along with undercover drug buys — to identify suppliers, distributors and dealers connected to the organization. Evidence and testimony was presented to a statewide grand jury, which recommended charges against 27 suspects.

The investigation centered on the activities of Robert H. Snyder, 53, of Pottstown, and Wesley B. White, 53, of Roaring Branch.

Snyder received bulk quantities of meth from sources in Mexico and supplied drugs to White, who used a number of dealers and associates in Berks and Tioga counties to sell the drugs, according to investigators.

Snyder and White were charged with participating in a corrupt organization, delivery of a controlled substance, conspiracy and other counts. Telephone numbers for them could not be located and it was not immediately clear if any of the defendants had attorneys.

During the investigation, agents and troopers seized about four pounds of crystal meth, one partially dismantled meth lab, nearly 100 firearms, $110,000 and 16 vehicles, authorities said.




GREENVILLE — Methamphetamine-related crimes are on the rise in Montcalm County, and law enforcement officials are racing to keep up with the addicts turned criminals.

Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell said his officers have been working closely with the Central Michigan Enforcement Team (CMET) and the Greenville Department of Public Safety in light of an “increase in meth-related incidents within the county, especially in the Greenville area.”

“It is critical that law enforcement remain vigilant in this area of illegal drug use,” Barnwell said. “Meth is extremely addictive and can consume people quickly once they become addicted.”

Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause agreed, saying meth is a “highly addictive, destructive drug.”

“We will continue to aggressively prosecute those who not only cook meth, but also those who supply the cooks and use as well,” Krause said.

Flat River Inn meth bust

A man and two women were arrested last weekend as the result of a meth investigation at a Greenville motel.

Sheriff’s deputies, with the assistance of the Greenville Department of Public Safety, conducted the investigation at the Flat River Inn at 2 a.m. Saturday.

Natasha Allen, 29, of Greenville, and Ashley Hansen, 23, of Belding, were both found to be in possession of meth, prescription narcotics and various drug paraphernalia. They have been charged and are scheduled for a pre-trial Monday and a preliminary examination Tuesday in 64B District Court in Stanton.

Daniel King, 25, of Greenville, was found to have outstanding warrants for his arrest in Ionia County and was transported to the Ionia County Jail on a contempt of court charge. He has not yet been charged in Montcalm County.

Flat River Trail meth discovery

Four people were arrested after a stash of meth paraphernalia was found on the Flat River Trail in Greenville last July — including Hansen, who was arrested at the Flat River Inn last weekend.

The crime trail led back to Donald Allen III, 31, of Eureka Township. Allen’s meth addiction became public knowledge when he attempted to create a one-pot meth lab in his pickup truck the night of May 6 in Eureka Township. The meth lab exploded, engulfing the pickup truck in flames and causing Allen to flee into the woods, discarding his clothes on the way.

Sheriff’s deputies and Greenville police officers arrived to find meth components in and around the fire-ravaged vehicle. Spectrum Health United Hospital officials contacted police later that night after Allen sought treatment for severe burns sustained in the explosion.

Less than three months later, police received information about a stash of meth paraphernalia hidden on the Flat River Trail between the Flat River Museum and the Flat River in Greenville. The stash included two reaction containers and other meth production components, as well as hazardous waste associated with meth production.

The investigation once again led to Allen, who was located and arrested on an outstanding warrant for the meth explosion three months prior. Allen admitted to disposing the meth equipment on the trail behind the museum.

Allen eventually pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance and operating or maintaining a meth lab. He was sentenced earlier this month in 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Stanton to from one year and six months to 10 years in prison.

Allen’s girlfriend, Melissa Mudget, 30, of Evart, was arrested in connection to one of Allen’s meth labs for supplying pseudoephedrine to Allen. Pseudoephedrine is commonly used to treat congestion, but is also one of the primary ingredients in the manufacturing of meth.

Mudget pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced this week.

Michael Smith, 30, of Orleans, and Hansen were also arrested and charged in connection to the meth labs. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced earlier this month to 12 months in jail. The case against Hansen was dismissed in court last August, but she is still facing charges related to Saturday’s meth bust at the Flat River Inn.

Meth use linked to murder

One decade ago, Mudget was involved in a case where meth use led to a murder in Montcalm County.

Mudget was 20 years old when she and a 16-year-old female accompanied four young men to a Trufant home on July 19, 2002.

Mudget and the female teen smoked meth in a vehicle parked outside the home while the four young men broke into the house in search of drugs. Instead they found Henry Marrott, 88, and they beat him to death inside his own home.

Mudget and the teenage girl pleaded guilty to being accomplices to a murder. They were sentenced to two years probation in December 2006.

A jury found Heath McGowen, now 31 years old, of Greenville, his brother, Clint McGowen, now 29, of Orleans, and Edward Griffes, now 30, of Greenville, guilty of first-degree murder. They were all sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A fourth man, Michael Hansen, now 31 years old, of Greenville, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to from 22 years and six months to 50 years in prison in December 2006.




One of three suspects in a large federal drug case, which allegedly smuggled methamphetamine to Guam hidden in a box of teddy bears, has confessed to her crimes in a plea agreement.

Monica Leasiolagi has offered to plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, or “ice,” according to District Court of Guam documents.

Her co-defendants, Martha Burgos and John Michael Pangelinan, haven’t signed any plea agreements and are still facing trial.

In the plea agreement, Leasiolagi admits that she was one of the conspirators who hatched a plan to smuggle ice to Guam hidden in mail parcels. The conspiracy began in August, and lasted less than two months before a mail parcel was intercepted by federal authorities, the plea agreement states.

Authorities found the drugs hidden in a parcel with three stuffed bears, and the plea agreement notes that Burgos had previously alerted Leasiolagi she was having some “teddy bears” sent to Guam.

After the package was intercepted, federal authorities replaced the ice with fake drugs and tracked the parcel to Leasiolagi, which led to the arrest of the alleged conspirators, according to the plea agreement.



A food service manager is expected to plead guilty Dec. 15 to dealing methamphetamine out of Vancouver’s El Rancho Viejo Family Restaurant.

Ramon Lopez-Guitron, 45, appeared today in Clark County Superior Judge Daniel Stahnke’s courtroom for a scheduled guilty plea, but the plea was delayed to allow the defense time to complete paperwork.

El Rancho Viejo restaurant manager Ramon Lopez Guitron, seen here at his first court appearance last year, will plead guilty to drug charges.

El Rancho Viejo restaurant manager Ramon Lopez Guitron, seen here at his first court appearance last year, will plead guilty to drug charges

The prosecution and defense have reached an agreement for a guilty plea, said Deputy Prosecutor Randy St. Clair.

In exchange, Lopez-Guitron would be convicted of just one felony and a gross misdemeanor instead of five felony charges he now faces. Those charges are four counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit delivery of a controlled substance.

His guilty plea and sentencing are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Dec. 15. St. Clair said Lopez-Guitron would likely not have to serve time in prison and would receive credit for time served in jail. The amount of time he’s already served was not available today. He is now on supervised release, St. Clair said.

Lopez-Guitron is accused of dealing methamphetamine out of the family-owned and operated restaurant between October 2009 and January 2010. He was arrested after he allegedly sold methamphetamine to uncover informants on several occasions at the restaurant, 6321 E. Fourth Plain Blvd.

Prosecutors alleged in charging papers that the investigation revealed he “occupied a high position in the drug distribution hierarchy.”

El Rancho Viejo also has locations in Camas, Ridgefield and Battle Ground, all operated by members of Lopez-Guitron’s family.



KILGORE, TX (KLTV) – The Kilgore Police Department maintains aggressive enforcement when it comes to drugs in the community they serve and the crime that always seems to follow. Lately the Department demonstrated their commitment in keeping the community of Kilgore free from crime and drugs with several arrest and drug seizures.

(Source: Kilgore Police Department)

The Kilgore Police Department’s DEA Task Force Officer recently investigated a case involving Walley Jackson of Dallas, Texas who was identified as a major supplier of large quantities of Methamphetamine (ICE) to the East Texas area including Kilgore. Jackson pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and was sentenced to 57 months federal time. Other members of this drug distribution ring were identified as Jennifer Northcutt, 42 years of age, of Mineola, TX Stacie Serenko, 35 years of age, of Tyler, TX and Billie Earl Johnson, 49 years of age, of Van, TX. They were each federally indicted in September 2012 for one count of Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, four counts of Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance to a Drug Trafficking Crime.

Also in November, a traffic stop yielded two arrests for marijuana possession; police located the residence in Kilgore the drugs were being sold from. A search of the residence (located on Fritz-Swanson Road) by police revealed close to a pound of marijuana which had been packaged for distribution. Other drug paraphernalia were taken to include scales, rolling papers, and plastic bags. A shotgun was also seized. A resident at the location identified as Eric King, 22 years.


Authorities say a two-year-long drug trafficking investigation in central Iowa has culminated with nine arrests. Investigators had been tracking the sale of methamphetamine in the Marshalltown area.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, authorities were able to search “several residences in Marshalltown and an apartment in Ankeny” as part of the investigation. Federal agents and local authorities collaborated, but the nine individuals arrested face federal charges.

Eight are accused of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The other was charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Each faces at least 10 years or a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

Those arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine are: Jose Sanchez Adame, Jose Luis Sanchez Adame, Raymundo Sotel Calderon, Fidel Sanchez, Antonio Cabrera Mendiola, Kyla Nicole Forbes, Shannon Lee Fogle and Fernando Camacho.

James Michael Buffington was also arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.


Holland — The five men and three women indicted this month in federal court on meth conspiracy charges are no strangers to the justice system. But their arrests are no guarantee that the types of petty crimes so often associated with drug production and sales will be reduced, according to area police.

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.

Meth Cleanup Concerns7.jpg

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.”



Calais – A Canadian man is facing federal drug smuggling charges after he tried to enter the United States at Calais, Maine, with 2,002 tablets of methamphetamine hidden in his vehicle.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says 49-year-old Charles Joseph Maillet was apprehended on Thanksgiving Day.

CBP says Maillet presented a trusted traveler card, which had been revoked, when he arrived at the Calais International Avenue port of entry on Thursday

A preliminary search of his vehicle found two meth tablets under the front seat. A complete search of the car found 2.36 pounds of pills in four packages.

The case was referred to the Maine office of the United States attorney for prosecution.



EL PASO, Texas — More than 900 pounds of drugs were seized Tuesday at the Santa Teresa port of entry.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers made three separate seizures resulting in three arrests and seized 884 pounds of marijuana and 78.6 pounds of methamphetamine.

Drug seizure

Around 10 a.m., officers were alerted by a drug-sniffing dog that drugs were present in a 1998 GMC Cheyenne 2500 pickup truck. Officers found 228 bundles of marijuana hidden in the truck bed and cab floor. The drugs weighed 418.8 pounds.

Drug seizure photo

Manual Paulino Alvarez Valdez, 36, from Ciudad Juarez was arrested and is facing federal drug-smuggling charges.

Around 3 p.m., a 2005 Ford Expedition entered the port from Mexico, and a drug-sniffing dog alerted officers to the presence of drugs. Officers found anomalies in the appearance of the radiator where they found the meth, officials said.

Lirice Vargas Mendoza, 21, of Chihuahua, Mexico was arrested on federal drug-smuggling charges.

The last seizure took place at 6:30 p.m. when a 1995 Chevrolet 1500 attempted to enter the United States. Officers again were alerted by a drug-sniffing dog and found 237 bundles of marijuana, weighing 465.3 pounds, in the rear wall and gas tank of the truck.

Bryant Orlando Padilla Garcia, 21, of Puerto Penasco, Sonora, Mexico was arrested and is facing federal drug-smuggling charges.





 (FRESNO, Calif.) — A major drug bust Monday uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of methamphetamine being smuggled down Interstate 5.

The California Highway Patrol seized more than 50 pounds of “liquid meth” on the highway in Coalinga at 10 a.m.

A man, who CHP identified as 20-year-old Rene Diaz, was handcuffed and taken into the back of a patrol car. CHP says his accomplice was 38-year-old Veronica Carrasco, who was also arrested. Investigators say the two worked together to transport 56 pounds of liquid methamphetamine hidden in tequila bottles. They’re estimating the value of the seized methamphetamine at more than half a million dollars. Investigators believe the two had plans to travel from Southern California to Oregon.

“At this level of amount, it is going to be distributed all over the place. Once it gets to the final form, the powdered form, it’s going to be disseminated throughout the country, “said CHP’s Matt Radke.

The bust happened during a traffic stop after an officer noticed both the suspects seemed nervous. A drug sniffing dog also picked up on the scent. Highway patrol says the transport of meth in liquid form is a new trend.

“In the past, I-5 has been though as the main corridor, but you can find it on 99 and I-5; pretty much every major thoroughfare through the state of California,” said Radke.

Members of the Fresno Meth Task force say the drugs are often made by Mexican cartels.

“These two suspects gave indications of basically just being transporters for whoever they are working for, and a lot of times in these instances they don’t know each other. They have valid licenses to transport,” Radke said.

Both will now face federal drug trafficking charges across state lines.



SYDNEY — Australian police seized 237 millionAustralian dollars ($246 million) worth of cocaine and methamphetamine found inside a steamroller shipped from China.

Australian Federal Police said Wednesday that they arrested a Canadian man and a U.S. man in Sydney after finding 350 kilograms (770 pounds) of cocaine and meth. The men were charged with importing drugs and face a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

It was the police agency’s second major drug bust in a week. On Friday, police said officials had tracked down a boat carrying 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of cocaine to Australia after it ran aground in the small island nation of Tonga. A corpse was found on board. Officials are trying to determine the cause of death.

A traffic stop on Interstate 5 in Fresno County, CA by the California Highway Patrol brought attention to a new trend in drug trafficking from Mexico to the United States on Monday.

CHP spokesman Matt Radke stated that the officer who conducted the stop noticed the occupants of the vehicle “acting nervously” prompting the use of a drug detection K9 to conduct a search of the car. The search yielded 15 bottles of Mexican-brand tequila bottles that were in fact filled with 56 pounds of liquid methamphetamine.

According the CHP, Mexican drug cartels have recently been manufacturing drugs in liquid form and effectively disguising them as liquor. Once bottled, the cartels then ship the drugs into the United States and Canada where they are refined into their final form of powder to be sold on the street.

It is estimated that the amount of liquid methamphetamine seized in this incident has a value of over $500,000.

Rene Diaz, 22, and Veronica Carrasco, 38, both of Oregon are charged with federal drug trafficking and attempting to traffic across state lines. They are currently being held at a Fresno County jail.




An Upper Gwynedd and former Hatfield man, described as “a victim of his own addiction,” pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in Montgomery County court Monday, pegging him as one of three ringleaders in a methamphetamine ring across two counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Francesco “Frank” Messina, 43, of the 600 block of Garfield Avenue, West Point, pleaded guilty to corrupt organizations, possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine and conspiracy in connection with incidents that occurred between December 2011 and March 2012, according to Carl Hessler of North Penn Life.

                              Jeff Penna, of Hatfield                                                                                                   

                              Frank Messina


Messina was the primary operator of Cosmos Motors in Lansdale.

One other major target — Jeff Penna, of Hatfield — pleaded guilty to racketeering/corrupt organizations, conspiracy and manufacuture and delivery of meth in September, according to court records.

His brother, and third alleged top racketeer, David Penna, of Lansdale, remains in the trial process; no verdict has been made or prosecution imposed, according to court records.

No evidence was found of a methamphetamine manufacturing facility in the county, according to Hessler.

According to the article, Messina admitted to personally delivering more than two grams of meth to an undercover detective on two incidents.

Messina also admitted his involvement in the delivery of five grams of meth, which his alleged co-defendants are also charged with in the case, according to the article.

By pleading guilty to corrupt organizations, Messina admitted, in part:

It shall be unlawful for any person who has received any income derived, directly or indirectly, from a pattern of racketeering activity in which such person participated as a principal, to use or invest, directly or indirectly, any part of such income, or the proceeds of such income, in the acquisition of any interest in, or the establishment or operation of, any enterprise (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 911)

Upon admitting delivering two grams of meth to an undercover cop, Messina now faces two, one-year mandatory sentences.

Upon admitting delivering five grams of meth, Messina faces a mandatory three-year sentence.

Messina’s defense attorney Sean Cullen was quoted as such:

“I think he was a victim of his own addiction … At some point the addiction takes over, you lose the ability to fund your own addiction, and then it becomes a matter of selling or trading in order to cover your own habit.”

“There were no extravagant lifestyles here … It was all one course of conduct. We’re going to ask the judge for concurrent sentences.”

Sentencing is deferred until officials complete a background investigative report about Messina, according to the article.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Whalley stated Messina was one of their intended major targets in prosecution of this case.

Authorities pegged Messina and two other men, brothers David and Jeff Penna, as the major players in the methamphetamine ring.

All in all, 32 people were involved in the meth ring, authorities allege.

Read more on Messina’s guilty plea and the methamphetamine ring case at this link.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Four people from Fort Smith have been sentenced on federal methamphetamine-related convictions.

Prosecutors said Monday that 39-year-old Sheila Hayes, 35-year-old William Hayes, 24-year-old Daniel Lawson and 25-year-old Jesus Ordaz were convicted of distribution of meth.

Authorities say undercover agents made multiple purchases of methamphetamine from the suspects.

Sheila Hayes was sentenced to just over 11 years in prison and William Hayes drew a sentence of 15½ years. Lawson was sentenced to 15 years and Ordaz will serve 19½ years in prison.

The investigation began in July 2011.

The defendants were indicted in January and entered guilty pleas in July.




KEARNEY — An Overton man faces federal charges of distributing methamphetamine.

David J. Hauser, 43, is charged in U.S. Federal District Court in Lincoln with conspiring with others to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine beginning on or about July 2011 through July 2012.

David Hauser


The maximum possible penalty includes imprisonment of not less than 10 years and up to life, a $10 million fine, a five-year term of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

Late this morning, Hauser was being held at the Buffalo County Jail.

In Buffalo County Court, Hauser is charged with felony distribution of meth more than 1 ounce but less than 5 ounces on July 11. Hauser was arrested following a traffic stop for speeding and not having the proper license plate tags on the pickup he was driving.

During a search of the pickup, a Nebraska State Patrol trooper found two plastic bags containing a total of 1.5 ounces of suspected meth inside a pair of gloves.

His arrest on the Buffalo County case is part of the federal indictment.



LAREDO, TX.– The seizure occurred at the Lincoln-Juarez Bridge on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 when CBP officers encountered a 2001 Mitsubishi Diamantebeing driven by a 22-year-old U.S. citizen from Dallas, Texas.

CBP officers referred the vehicle and driver to secondary for a closer inspection. That closer inspection resulted in CBP officers discovering 18 packages containing 42 pounds of alleged crystal methamphetamines concealed within the vehicle.

Photo special to The Laredo Sun.

The estimated street value of the crystal methamphetamine is $630,000.

CBP officers seized the methamphetamines, the Mitsubishi, and arrested the female driver. CBP officers turned the woman over to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents for further investigation.

“CBP officers continue to make excellent use of the technological tools that are available to them in carrying out their day to day duties,” said Sidney K. Aki, Port Director, Laredo Port of Entry.

“I am most proud of their continued vigilance and efforts in keeping our borders safe.”



SALT LAKE CITY — A Layton couple has been arrested by Mexican authorities following a high-speed chase, officials with the U.S. Marshals Service said.

Jacquiline Jean Randall, 35, and Lorin Davison Fiene, 40, were arrested Monday in Mexico about 100 miles away from the U.S. border, said Deputy U.S. Marshal Bobby Arnes.

Arnes said the two were indicted by a federal grand jury in October on drug charges.

Lorin Davison Fiene

Jacquiline Jean Randall

According to court documents, both have been indicted on two counts of possession of methamphetamine and one count of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. No court date has been set.

Arnes said his office, along with Davis Metro Narcotics Strike Force, received leads that the couple had fled the area shortly after they were indicted. His office later learned the two were in Mexico and contacted Mexican authorities.

The two are now in a federal prison in San Diego, waiting to be extradited to Utah.

Besides the federal charges, the two also have warrants for their arrests out of 2nd District Court.

Randall has no-bail bench warrants out of Ogden and Farmington for failing to appear for court hearings set in October.

Fiene has a no-bail bench warrant out of Farmington for failing to appear for a hearing in October.

The two were arrested in September by the Davis Metro Narcotics Strike Force. They were each charged with three counts of first-degree felony distribution of methamphetamine, one count of second-degree felony possession of oxycodone, one count of class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana and one count of class B misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. The pair lived in a house 800 feet away from a church, which enhanced the charges because it is a drug-free zone, according to court documents.

Randall had been released from Davis County Jail on $50,000 bail shortly after her arrest in September. She had two cases pending in 2nd District Court in Ogden and one case pending in Farmington, according to court documents.

She pleaded guilty July 31 in Ogden to third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, according to the court website.

A sentencing hearing had been set for Oct. 9 in Ogden, which she did not attend.

In the second Ogden case, she has been charged with two counts of third-degree felony receiving stolen property and two counts of class A misdemeanor theft by receiving stolen property.

According to court documents, Randall was seen on a surveillance tape, dated May 17, pulling a trailer with ATVs stolen in Clearfield and Layton into a storage unit in Weber County.

She was also arrested by Davis County Sheriff’s Office on April 22. After she was pulled over for a traffic violation, a drug dog indicated drugs were in the car, and Randall admitted to having marijuana. Officers searched her car and found meth and Xanax, according to a probable cause statement. She was charged with third-degree felony possession of methamphetamine, as well as possession of Xanax, possession of drug paraphernalia, driving on a suspended or revoked license and operating a vehicle without an ignition interlock system, all class B misdemeanors.

Once considered merely a rural problem, methamphetamine production has slowly encroached upon urban areas of the United States — and Savannah is no exception.

In the past decade, authorities throughout Coastal Georgia have observed a continuing increase in the use, distribution and manufacturing of the synthetic narcotic.

Until recently, meth-related crime had seemingly remained largely in rural areas.


The discovery in early September of two active methamphetamine labs inside a home in one of Savannah’s most affluent neighborhoods highlighted the disturbing trend of meth-related crime in Chatham County and within the Savannah city limits.

This year, Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team agents have far surpassed the most methamphetamine-related arrests they’ve made here in a single year.

That, said CNT Agent Gene Harley, the agency’s spokesman, is because meth producers have developed new techniques to manufacture the drug and have found ways to skirt laws designed to limit the public’s access to methamphetamine’s key ingredient — pseudoephedrine.


A spreading trend

Savannah-Chatham police and Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team agents the morning of Sept. 10 discovered a pair of operational meth labs inside a small house in the 700 block of East 50th Street.

Ultimately, six people involved in that methamphetamine operation were charged in connection to the lab in the Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent home.

The bust came as a surprise for many of the neighborhood’s residents, said Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent Neighborhood Association president Randy Moffett.

“We’re very concerned about this type of thing happening in Ardsley or anywhere in Savannah,” Moffett said. “But I guess it reflects that no neighborhood is immune from this.”

And as meth labs have become smaller — thus easier to transport and disregard — they’ve been found in more and more areas.

CNT agents this year have made more than 40 arrests for methamphetamine production or trafficking-related crimes in Chatham and Bryan counties — about four times as many as they made in all of 2011.

In Effingham County, where methamphetamine has been a noted issue for years, deputies have seen an increase this year in meth production, said David Ehsanipoor, Effingham County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. He added methamphetamine continues to be the county’s “single biggest problem” for law enforcement.

That trend, both Harley and Ehsanipoor said, is largely the product of a relatively new manufacturing technique called the “one pot” or “shake ‘n’ bake” method.

Meth cooks using the new procedure need only one sealed container — typically a two-liter soda bottle — to make methamphetamine, Harley said.

All the ingredients are placed in the vessel and flipped or shaken to produce the chemical reaction necessary to make the drugs.

Aside from the “one pot” technique’s instability that can cause an explosion, Harley said, it produces meth dangerously and quickly.

“It’s so portable, in fact, that it is most common to find people using this method to make meth in their car, house and hotel rooms,” Harley said. “A person making meth in their car can drive around while the meth is being made to release the fumes, and when the process is over, they simply chuck the used container filled with toxic chemical residue out of the window.

“Aside from the environmental impact this has, it also poses a hazard to children that naturally want to explore and pick up the things they find.”


Cat-and-mouse game

In 2005, laws limiting access to pseudoephedrine were passed in Georgia in the hopes of combatting the rising methamphetamine problem.

While those laws have been effective in limiting how much of meth’s key ingredient can be purchased at one time, producers have found ways to skirt the laws.

A common way, Harley said, is for a meth maker to recruit three or more people to enter drug stores and purchase or steal small quantities of pseudoephedrine.

Not only does the method called “smurfing” keep meth cooks from having to purchase the ingredients, but it also limits the possibilities of triggering law enforcement notice of large pseudoephedrine purchases that are logged into a central database, Harley said.

“Meth cooks know they have to constantly recruit new people to go get the required items needed to manufacture meth,” Harley said. “In most cases, the smurfs will return the items to the cook, who will then exchange them for finished meth, and it’s not uncommon to see a meth-user bounce from one meth circle to another.”

CNT agents this year have made a handful of meth-related arrests after observing smurfs at a drug store and following them to their meth cooks. Those surveillance operations, Harley said, have proven to be a very successful way of catching meth producers, who typically use their own product on top of distributing it.


‘Not even once’

Methamphetamine has become so simple to acquire in Georgia that the Georgia Meth Project has aimed to scare potential users out of trying it.

“We’re focused on prevention,” said Jim Langford, the nonprofit organization’s executive director. “This substance is so addictive and so very dangerous that our goal is to get the message out to just not try it, not even once.”

Two years ago, the organization launched a visually disturbing advertising campaign that told real-life stories to shock potential users and, hopefully, steer them away from the drug.

“We don’t have to make up the stories,” Langford said. “We let the real stories — these horror stories are beyond anything we can make up. We just have to make it clear that these terrible things that happen to people who use (meth) can happen to you.”

One use of methamphetamine, Langford said, has proven to be enough for many people to become addicted.

According to information provided by The Meth Project, methamphetamine produces a stronger high than plant-derived narcotics, such as cocaine or heroin, and its effects can last from eight to 24 hours.

Long-term use, Langford said, is devastating to users.

In addition to “meth-mouth” — yellowed, often rotted teeth — the drug can produce a paranoia — called formication — during which users may believe bugs are crawling on them. The constant scratching and picking at their skin, in return, produces sores that do not heal in long-term users because of the damage the drug does to their blood vessels.

The addiction is so strong, Langford added, users often lose interest in anything but getting high on meth, something the Georgia Meth Project has become especially aware of in young, single mothers who try the drug for an energy boost.

“They may be working a job or two and they’re tired at the end of the day,” he said. “Someone tells them this will help you out, and the next thing you know, they’ve abandoned their children.”

That level of addiction, Harley said, is also seen among meth-abusers leaving the prison system upon completing their sentences.

“Per the users, the high (from meth) is so great that nothing compares to it,” Harley said. “Even persons who have gone to prison for meth-related charges and received drug counseling — despite not having the drug for a long period of time — when they’re released, the only thing on their mind is getting high on meth.”

And that’s the point, Langford said, of the Meth Project’s aim to educate Georgia’s youth and convince them to never even consider using meth.

“It’s something no one ever needs to go near,” he said. “It’s not only a life-long sentence for users, it is ultimately, really, a death sentence. There are not a whole lot of long-term meth users that survive.”



Rare, high-purity form of meth seized

CNT agents Jan. 21 made two arrests after an investigation determined two men were selling high-quality crystal meth out of a home in the 500 block of East 31st Street. William Alvin Dunn Jr., 41, and David Aaron Wacaser, 33, were charged with trafficking methamphetamine after selling to undercover agents a form of meth known as ICE that agents say is rarely seen in Chatham County.


Explosion causes fire

On the morning of July 29, a fire broke out in the 4800 block of Old Louisville Road. CNT agents were notified by Garden City firefighters that the blaze was likely caused while occupants were cooking meth. Two suspects were eventually apprehended in connection to the lab.

Dustin Lax, 36, was captured Aug. 1 at a Pooler motel; Casey Renee Horn-Sloan, 32, was apprehended Aug. 15 in Effingham County. Both were charged with manufacturing methamphetamine.


‘Smurfs’ lead to serial offender

CNT agents conducting surveillance at the Ogeechee Road Kroger busted a Chatham County man for the 53rd time on Aug. 9.

Johnny West, 42, was apprehended and charged with manufacturing methamphetamine after two people were observed stealing items from the store that are commonly used to make meth and bringing them to West, a known meth cook.


Hotel operation

Undercover CNT agents on Sept. 7 learned a group was attempting to compile items to make methamphetamine in a hotel room near Interstate 95 and Ga. 204.

Agents found most of the items needed to make meth inside the hotel room, in the possession of 21-year-old Paige Miller of Guyton and 25-year-old Michael McGuinn of Bloomingdale. Both were arrested before any meth was made; they were charged with possession of tools for manufacturing methamphetamine.


Labs busted in Ardsley Park

Less than a week after busting a non-active lab in a home in the Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent neighborhood, CNT agents found another meth lab in the same house.

Savannah-Chatham police and CNT agents worked together Sept. 10 to bust the lab in the 700 block of East 50th Street that showed signs it had actively produced meth even after two of the home’s occupants were jailed.

Eric Bradley Strong, 30, and Christopher Michael Hewitt, 35, were arrested Sept. 7 and were being held in the Chatham County jail during the Sept. 10 investigation.

Zefani Janae Moss, 31; Darien Jemelle Pringle, 32; Candace Bazemore, 28; and Robert Paul Triche, 30, were each charged with manufacturing methamphetamine and possession of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school for their involvement in the Sept. 10 incident.


Lab busted in motel

CNT agents on Oct. 24 found a 26-year-old Savannah man destroying evidence he was preparing to cook methamphetamine in an Eisenhower Drive motel.

Enrique Saldano was arrested at the motel and charged with manufacturing methamphetamine. His accomplice, 17-year-old Megan Savage was also arrested and charged after all of the items to produce meth were found in the room.

Agents deemed the motel room safe afterward because the meth lab was not active.




The seizure of about four pounds of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of $200,000, is the largest amount of the crystal drug ever found in Columbus County.

Sheriff’s Drug Unit detectives, working with the SBI and authorities in Cumberland and Moore counties, seized the meth Tuesday by stopping a Ford Explorer on U.S. 701 Bypass here in front of the State Employees Credit Union.

Detectives “ordered” the meth and it was brought from Fayetteville by one of three Hispanics arrested in the case.

Fayetteville, Robbins

Johnny Andreas Savva Jr., 35, of Sand Hills Drive, Fayetteville, was by himself in the Ford vehicle. The meth was found in the back seat of the vehicle.

The investigation led back to Fayetteville where authorities there went to a residence and arrested Samuel Olivares, 18, of Houston, Texas. Still another group of law officers, including some from Moore County, went to a home in Robbins and arrested Felipe Benjume Rodriguez, 36, living along Littlefield Lane there.

Sheriff’s Drug Detective Lt. Steven Worthington said another two ounces of the drug, believed to have also been manufactured in Mexico, and transported to Fayetteville, was found in the Fayetteville home.

Lab found in ‘05

Very small amounts of meth have been seized here in several arrests in the past few years, but this was by far the most found in one case. A lab used to manufacture meth was found near Tabor City in 2005. This is believed to be the only lab ever found in this county.

Ironically, David Michael Holt Jr., convicted in the meth lab case, is back in the news on his arrest for 54 counts of fraud using stolen checks.




GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A daily methamphetamine user, Amanda Dordon – accused in a $500,000 Holland Township meth ring – wiped tears at the defense table as a federal magistrate judge read charges that carry at least 10 years in prison, and up to life.

Dordon was arraigned Friday, Nov. 16, in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids charged with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.

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This residence, 2571 West Pine Lane in Holland Township, has been identified as a drug home and is also where landlord Kim Le was set on fire in January 2012. She later died of her injuries.


She is the first of seven, including her sister, to be arraigned on charges involving separate alleged meth rings.  Others are expected in court on Monday.

Attorney Richard Zambon entered a not-guilty plea on her behalf. Zambon asked that his client be released to the custody of her mother, who was in court, and has taken care of her daughter’s children.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh Brenneman Jr. had concerns about releasing Dordon on bond because she has been a daily meth user for some time. He ordered her placed at Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, or K-PEP where she can receive residential treatment.

Dordon was indicted with her sister, Amber Mae Dordon, and Saengchaenh “Yaa” Sengmany and Phetmany “Pit” Choummanivong of meth conspiracy.

The government is seeking forfeiture of $500,000, the amount allegedly raised in illegal drug sales. In a separate Holland Township case, Khamnmany “Thong” Phouangphet, Sengathith “Seng” Sybounma and Thavone “Lek” Khamsouksay have been indicted with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.

The government is seeking $250,000 as drug proceeds from that group.

Police in the Holland area have worked closely with federal agencies to rid the area of drugs, gangs and violence. Earlier this year, local, state and federal agencies conducted raids at 17 residences targeting the city’s oldest gang, the Latin Kings.

The federal government got involved in the late 1990s when gangs turned to using firebombs and burned down two houses.

Police used state warrants to search residences in the methamphetamine case.

Phouangphet, accused of maintaining a drug-involved premises at 2571 West Pine Lane in Holland from 2010 until December 2011, faces multiple drug charges. He is also accused of being a felon and illegal resident in possession of a firearm.

He is the brother of Davanh “Dat” Phouangphet, who was charged with open murder in the January death of his landlord, Kim Le. Police say he doused her with a flammable liquid and set her on fire at the West Pine Lake home.

The other group allegedly used multiple homes in a mobile home community, and sent “significant quantities” of meth through the U.S. Postal Service, Assistant U.S. Attorney Heath Lynch wrote in the indictment.

He said they “and other members of the conspiracy unlawfully obtained methamphetamine from suppliers in locations across the United States.”



A few miles west of downtown, past a terra-cotta-tiled gateway emblazoned with Bienvenidos, the smells and sights of Mexico spill onto 26th Street. The Mexican tricolor waves from brick storefronts. Vendors offer authentic churros, chorizo and tamales.

Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood is home to more than 500,000 residents of Mexican descent and is known for its Cinco de Mayo festival and bustling Mexican Independence Day parade. But federal authorities say that Little Village is also home to something else: an American branch of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel.
Members of Mexicos most powerful cartel are selling a record amount of heroin and methamphetamine from Little Village, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. From there, the drugs are moving onto the streets of south and west Chicago, where they are sold in assembly-line fashion in mostly African American neighborhoods.
Chicago, with 100,000 gang members to put drugs on the street, is a logistical winner for the Sinaloa cartel, Jack Riley, the DEAs special agent in charge of the Chicago field division, said after a tour through Little Village. We have to operate now as if were on the Mexican border. Its not just Chicago. Increasingly, as drug cartels have amassed more control and influence in Mexico, they have extended their reach deeper into the United States, establishing inroads across the Midwest and Southeast, according to American counternarcotics officials. An extensive distribution network supplies regions across the country, relying largely on regional hubs like this city, with ready markets off busy interstate highways.


One result: Seizures of heroin and methamphetamine have soared in recent years, according to federal statistics.

The U.S. government has provided Mexico with surveillance equipment, communication gear and other assistance under the $1.9 billion Merida Initiative, the anti-drug effort launched more than four years ago. But critics say that north of the border, the federal government has barely put a dent into a sophisticated infrastructure that supports more than $20 billion a year in drug cash flowing back to Mexico.

The success of the Mexican cartels in building their massive drug distribution and marketing networks across the county is a reflection of the U.S. governments intelligence and operational failure in the war on drugs, said Fulton T. Armstrong, a former national intelligence officer for Latin America and ex-CIA officer.
We pretend that the cartels dont have an infrastructure in the U.S., said Armstrong, also a former staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now a senior fellow at American Universitys Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. But you dont do a $20 billion a year business . . . with ad-hoc, part-time volunteers. You use an established infrastructure to support the markets. How come were not attacking that infrastructure?
A reported 8.9 percent of Americans age 12 or older 22.6 million people are current users of illegal drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services up from 6.2 percent in 1998. Demand for and the availability of illegal drugs is rising.
Charles Bowden, who has written several books about Mexico and drug trafficking, said policy failures have exacerbated the problems. The war on drugs is over, he said. There are more drugs in the U.S. of higher quality and at a lower price.
Of the seven Mexican organized crime groups that traffic drugs across the United States, the Sinaloa cartel dominates the business, selling most of the heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine. One Mexican national-security expert estimated that the cartel moves a kilo of cocaine over the U.S. border about every 10 minutes.
The Sinaloa cartel, named after a Mexican Pacific coast state, is headed by Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, one of the worlds most brutal and sought-after drug lords.
Officials say the Sinaloa cartel typically sends its drugs across the border to distribution cells in cities such as Los Angeles. From there, dozens of operators including truck drivers who conceal the packages amid shipments of fruits, vegetables and other consumer goods bring the drugs east and north, unloading them at nondescript warehouses, condominiums and duplexes managed by the cartel.

The DEA has estimated that Mexican drug trafficking organizations now operate in 1,286 American cities. That number, however, includes both major regional hubs such as Chicago, with direct links to large Mexican cartels, and scores of communities where smaller trafficking groups happen to be led by Mexican citizens who may have no operational connections. The DEA said it was not able to provide a full list of the 1,286 cities.

Besides Los Angeles and Chicago, Atlanta has emerged as a major distribution hub. The access to interstate highways and a growing Hispanic population allow cartel members to travel freely and blend into the general population, leading the organizations to bulk up operations.
In Atlanta, officials said, four rival cartels are battling for control: the Beltran Leyva; remnants of La Familia Michoacana; the Knights Templar, a splinter group of La Familia; and the Sinaloa.
Seizures of heroin in the city have increased 70 percent in the past two years and traffickers are selling a better quality of Mexican Brown heroin to many who are already addicted to pharmaceutical painkillers, said Harry S. Sommers, the DEAs special agent in charge of the Atlanta field division. The drug is now mostly being smoked or snorted, not injected by needle.
Theres not a significant difference between Oxycontin and heroin, Sommers said. Sometimes they give the heroin away at first and get people hooked on it.
The increasing amount of heroin agents are seeing in Chicago and Atlanta is reflected nationwide, a ccording to the DEA. In the first nine months of this fiscal year, 1,394 kilograms of heroin were seized, compared with 487 kilos of heroin seized at the southwest border in fiscal year 2008 and 773 kilos in 2009. Heroin arrests nationwide are up, too. In the first nine months of this fiscal year, 3,350 people were arrested on heroin charges, compared with 2,510 in 2008.

Mexican meth
Officials say the cartels ability to infiltrate U.S. cities reflects calculated business decisions.

In recent years, U.S. officials have cracked down on American-made methamphetamine by passing federal and state laws to restrict the sale of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture it, particularly pseudoephedrine, a common over-the-counter decongestant for allergies and colds.

The cartels have filled the void. Mexican-produced meth now accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the product sold in the United States, and it is swiftly moving into major urban hubs including Phoenix, Denver, St. Louis, Chicago and Atlanta, according to the DEA.
Federal agents have seized 7,574 kilos of methamphetamine at the southwest border in the first nine months of this fiscal year, compared with 2,237 kilos in 2008 and 3,064 in 2009.
We’ve seen a sudden increase of meth in Chicago in just the last several months, said Riley, the special agent in charge there. Until now, meth has been mostly a rural phenomenon. We havent seen this on the streets in large cities. Its an indication of the cartels seizing the market.
The Sinaloa cartel has both slashed the price and produced a purer form of meth that gives users a faster and longer-lasting high, Riley said. To get the methamphetamine on the streets, the cartel is using its existing distribution networks.
Experts say Mexican cartels have also been calculating in their use of violence. In Mexico, more than 60,000 people have been killed in the past six years in mass murders, beheadings and mutilations as the cartels have fought for control.
Bowden, who spent years in Mexico writing about the violence, said its no accident U.S. cities havent seen the same levels of brutality. In the U.S., murder is bad for their drug business, he said. In Mexico, it is business.

A tenacious foe
Each time the federal government succeeds in prosecuting cartel members, the groups deploy new lieutenants to keep the drugs flowing north and the cash and U.S. guns going south into Mexico.
The DEA and other federal agencies say that they are making strides in combatting organized crime with new strike forces, composed of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. In Chicago, for example, the DEA-led strike force has worked with the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Chicago police; Immigration Customs and Enforcement; and other state and federal agencies to bring down traffickers.
Officials also said large drug busts across the country have netted scores of dealers, thousands of kilos of drugs and tens of millions of dollars in cash.
The Justice Department, in the meantime, is extraditing an increasing number of high-ranking cartel members to the United States for prosecution, including Jesús Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of Guzmans top partner in the Sinaloa cartel and a trafficker who officials say is the biggest Mexican drug kingpin to be prosecuted in a U.S. courtroom.
Despite major drug seizures, Armstrong, the former national intelligence officer, said officials have not scored lasting gains.
Its because the U.S. government hasnt broken the system, Armstrong said. Theyve arrested dealers. But the distribution system and its network are alive and well.

She’s a pretty soccer mom in Dallas who grew up in privilege attending the best private schools. He’s a tatted up Aryan Nations member in rural West Tennessee who has spent a third of his life in prison.

If they have nothing else in common, they share a sordid history of using and selling methamphetamine.

Medina Meth Lab Bust


“I literally went from June Cleaver to this person who was nuts,” says “Rachael,” whose real name is not being used to protect her from her former supplier.

Today, Rachael is in treatment and remains the most unlikely of experts on the users of meth, a highly addictive stimulant that triggers euphoria by boosting the neurotransmitter dopamine.

“It’s not all people without teeth. There were people from mortgage companies, other middle-class people holding down a job every day, people over 50,” she says.

Her product had utilitarian roots. Methamphetamine was synthesized into crystal form from ephedrine by Akira Ogata, a Japanese chemist, in 1919. During World War II was given to Kamikaze pilots to fight fatigue and boost courage. Later, meth became popular with outlaw motorcycle gangs on the West Coast, including the Hells Angels, earning the nickname “crank” because bikers would transport it in their crankcases.

Over the years, meth migrated east. These days, illegal meth has evolved from a drug made mostly in rural labs to a business increasingly run through a sophisticated urban distribution system infiltrating most major U.S. cities.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows the roller-coaster nature of meth use. It reports the rate of persons 12 or older initiating meth use increased more than 60 percent between 2008 (95,000) and 2009 (154,000) then dropped in 2010 (105,000).

Now 80 percent of the meth on American streets comes from Mexico, smuggled over the Southwest border dissolved in water, windshield wiper fluid or beer or hiding in fruit or produce, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Justice Department’s 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment reported that four Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations, commonly known as cartels, were most involved: Sinaloa, Tijuana, La Familia Michoacana (LFM), and Beltran-Leyva.

Southwest border seizures of meth totaled 7,338 kilograms in 2011, more than twice the amount seized in 2009.

“We’ve seen a big uptick in seizures of methamphetamine,” says John Horn, first assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia. “It has supplanted coke as the main drug imported in the last year — both in liquid form, where they take it to processing labs, and also ‘dirty’ meth or brown meth that they wash and make into ice (a clear, rock-like form of the drug).”

Rachael sums it up: “The cartels have the market cornered in Dallas.”

Evidence analyzed at DEA laboratories shows that from July 2007 through September 2010, the price per gram of meth decreased 60.9 percent, from $270.10 to $105.49, while the purity increased 114.1 percent, from 39 percent to 83 percent. The caveat: often meth is diluted as it works its way down the chain of dealers before being sold at street level.

“Mexican ice (meth) has been stepped on and cut so many times it’s just not at the purity of what a local meth cook would turn out,” says Detective Charles Teeters of the Memphis, Tenn., Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit.

This creates opportunity for people like “Kevin,” the Aryan Nations member who lives in Tipton County just north of Memphis. His name is not being used because it might make him the target of rival drug dealers. In his neck of the woods, home-brew meth typically goes for about $50 a gram.

All Kevin needs is a 2-liter plastic soda bottle, or even a 20-ounce plastic bottle, to cook a small amount of meth in what is commonly termed the “one-pot” or “shake-and-bake” method. He conceivably could cook anywhere, but he prefers the woods behind his parents’ small crooked house — slanted ceilings, uneven floors, his mother sitting on an old couch rolling her own cigarettes — or in a back bedroom where his newlywed wife’s 4-year-old daughter sleeps.

“With 30 bucks (for ingredients), you can make a couple hundred bucks of meth,” Kevin says, adding that he doesn’t feel bad about cooking and selling. “The way I look at it, people were either gonna come get it from me or from somebody else.”

Some, but not all of the ingredients required to make meth in a one-pot cook include: pseudoephedrine (PSE), the key chemical found in many cold and allergy medications; ammonium nitrate, found in cold packs; camp fuel, a common naphtha-based fuel used in lanterns; metal lithium and salt. It’s often said that cooking meth this way, which can be done in less than an hour, is as easy as baking cookies. But Kevin, who claims he made “A’s” in high school science class, says it is imperfect chemistry.

On a late summer morning, Kevin sits in his family’s kitchen where dirty dishes cover the counters and stovetop. He has a shaved head and is shirtless, wears sleep pants covered in little devils and hearts. “My wife got them for me on my honeymoon,” he says.

He explains that moisture or air temperature can affect the outcome of a particular meth batch, a theory confirmed by University of Oklahoma professor of chemistry Donna Nelson, who also serves as consultant for the cable-TV show “Breaking Bad” in which a high school science teacher and a former student cook and sell meth.

“As a chemist, the idea of putting so many things with so many impurities in your body … I cringe at that,” says Nelson, whose academic research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Kevin only cringes at the thought of his cooking process failing: “Sometimes it’ll be good, sometimes it’ll be bad. Sometimes, you don’t even get meth. It’s a hope recipe.”

Those who have spent the most time studying America’s meth problem — its many faces, its many layers, its many victims — are past hoping that the drug can be eradicated.

“It’s never going away,” says Jane Maxwell, senior research scientist in the Center for Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and who is engaged in a study of 222 meth addicts. “It’s whack-a-mole.”

The federal government took its whack with the 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which requires all products containing pseudoephedrine to be placed behind a sales counter and retailers to maintain a logbook of PSE purchases. Two states — Oregon in 2006 and Mississippi in 2010 — went further by passing laws requiring a prescription for PSE.

Joy Krieger, executive director of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, St. Louis chapter, says prescription laws put an unnecessary burden on consumers and that products containing PSE are vital to people seeking an effective decongestant.

“I want pseudoephedrine,” says Krieger. “It will keep you open. It is the medicine of choice.”

This year, at least 16 states pursued PSE-prescription legislation. All failed.

Kentucky, the first state to use NPLEx, an electronic system that tracks PSE sales so pharmacies and law enforcement can see when someone is at the legal purchase limit in a 30-day period, was a battleground state.

A trade group representing the over-the-counter drug industry, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), spent $486,053 on lobbying in Kentucky to defeat the prescription legislation.

About $18 billion is spent per year on non-prescription medicine. That money, and the lobbying money, is telling, says Rob Bovett, a district attorney in Lincoln County, Ore., and a driving force behind the state’s prescription law.

“It’s not just chump change,” Bovett says. “It’s the cost of doing business.”

Like many in law enforcement, Tennessee Meth Task Force Director Tommy Farmer says tracking PSE sales doesn’t work.

“We don’t have a problem finding meth labs,” Farmer says, noting that Tennessee was among the nation’s leaders in 2011 with 1,130 meth lab incidents. “We have a problem stopping them.”

In 2011, 10,287 meth lab incidents were reported nationwide — up 39 percent from 2008; the number includes recovery of hazardous materials left behind. One reason tracking doesn’t work, Farmer and others say, is the practice of “smurfing” in which people use fake IDs or get others to purchase the products containing PSE for them. Street gangs, such as the Bloods and Crips, have started to become involved, too.

Sometimes, the smurfer looks less like someone who would be involved with meth and more like someone who actually bakes cookies. One day in Memphis, Det. Teeters arrests Linda Clark, a 60-year-old grandmother from Jonesboro, Ark. Over the last two years NPLEx shows she has made 38 purchases of products containing PSE in Tennessee — a pattern that allows him to charge her with the promotion of manufacturing methamphetamine, a felony.

Standing outside the detective’s unmarked SUV on a downtown sidewalk, her sunglasses pushed up on her dyed-red hair, Clark begins to cry as she says she has been selling the blister packs she bought for around $10 to meth cooks for $50.

“I just need the money,” she says.

Others are desperate for the meth rush. Nick Reding, author of “Methland,” which chronicled meth abuse in a small Iowa town, tells one story about a 37-year-old man who “blew himself up in a lab fire.” After three months in a hospital burn unit, after “losing most of his fingers and quite a bit of his face,” as Reding puts it, the man returned to smoking and cooking meth.

Dr. Michael Smock, director of the burn center at Mercy Hospital

in St. Louis, practices in the state that consistently leads the country in meth lab incidents (Missouri had 2,058 last year). He has watched the nature of burns change with the highly combustible one-pot method, which gone wrong can turn a plastic soda bottle into a flamethrower. One thing, however, has stayed the same: about 15 percent of his patients are injured in meth lab fires and most have no insurance. One patient who spent more than 100 days in the burn unit ran up a bill of more than $1 million.

Jeffrey Scott, DEA special agent in Washington, D.C., has viewed the meth problem from just about every angle.

“At the 30,000-foot level, the federal level, the preponderance of meth is Mexican meth,” he says.

But he’s also been on ground level, seen flesh melting off people in lab fires, and the toxic sludge and societal waste left behind for others to clean up.

“I worked in California, on the border in Arizona, in Kentucky, and in all those places I found meth labs to be the most difficult to deal with investigative-wise and every other way,” Scott says.

The agent pauses, as though still weary: “If I never did another meth lab it’d be a day too soon.”