Methamphetamine in the Inland area. Date: 01/27/00 Day

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Headline: Source Nation: Uphill battle against meth epidemic: Despite increasing resources, authorities say they've been unable to slow production or use of methamphetamine in the Inland area.
Date: 01/27/00
Day: Thursday
Credit: The Press -Enterprise
Section: A Section
Zone: ALL ZONES
Page: A01
Byline: Aldrin Brown
Caption: 1. Night raid: Mark Zaleski; The Press -Enterprise ; A group of people at a Menifee home where police discovered a methamphetamine lab waits to be interviewed by officers. 2. Small operation: Mark Zaleski; The Press -Enterprise ; Hesperia police Officer Alan Sinclair handcuffs Glen Morgan, 38, and Mary Powers, 45, after narcotics agents found a small methamphet-amine lab and more than 3 grams of the drug in Morgan's apartment. Both pleaded guilty to drug charges. 3. Eye test: Mark Zaleski; The Press -Enterprise ; Using a flashlight and pen, Riverside County sheriff's Deputy Bruce Moore tests a man for intoxication at a Menifee home where police found a drug lab in October.
Art: PHOTOS
Notes: See sidebars "Consensus remains elusive in nation's drug war", "Enforcement groups vie for federal funds", "Addicts fight to get and stay clean" , and Divine intervention saves some, addicts say".
Subject: CRIME; NARCOTICS; PREVENTION
Keys: SOURCE NATION; METH LABS; METHAMPHETAMINE

Type: SERIES

The insatiable demand for methamphetamine generates billions

of dollars a year nationwide, fueling an industry of clandestine

manufacturers undeterred by prison, poor health or the threat of

death.

Despite state-of-the-art technology, expertly trained staff and



increasing financial resources, many law-enforcement experts

question whether even their best efforts will allow them to

suppress the meth trade.

"Definitely, there's no light at the end of the tunnel on this,"

said Lt. Al Hearn, who heads the Riverside County Sheriff's

Department's major narcotics unit, which targets large-scale

trafficking operations.

In recent years, Inland law-enforcement authorities secured

millions of dollars in grants for overtime pay and equipment to

combat the local methamphetamine trade.

They also established task forces to collect intelligence and to

bring justice to those responsible for flooding the streets with

meth. But even the collaborative two-county effort has resulted in

no discernible reduction in the amount of drugs on the street.

The efforts produce convictions - many of them - filling

California's prisons with cookers, dealers and violent addicts.

Drug-related crimes accounted for more than 37 percent of

California's prison population in 1999. But like an aggressive crab

grass, new offenders sprout as quickly as the last ones are uprooted.

Between 1995 and 1999, methamphetamine lab busts in California

more than doubled, from 965 to more than 2,000 last year.

In Riverside County, the number rose from 167 in 1995 to more

than 300 in 1999. San Bernardino County authorities expect to tally

more than 420 labs for last year, up from 277 in 1995.

"We're trying to do our best to dissuade people from cooking


methamphetamine , but I have not seen a decrease in the

methamphetamine cases," said Deputy District Attorney Karen Khim,

who heads prosecutions of small-time methamphetamine manufacturers

in San Bernardino County.

In fact, the number of methamphetamine manufacturing cases

handled last year by the San Bernardino County district attorney's

office rose to 726, up from 549 the previous year.

As though riding a treadmill, narcotics officers on the front

lines dutifully raid lab after lab with no end in sight.

Local police estimate that for every lab they dismantle, 20 more

go undetected.

At the heart of the epidemic lies the ferocious demand for

methamphetamine by local users Q many harboring decades-long

addictions.

Glen Morgan, a daily methamphetamine user for more than 21 years,

readily admits that he no longer battles his addiction.

"I've just accepted that it's part of myself," said Morgan, 38,

who works sporadically taping drywall. "It's a (messed)-up

addiction, but if I don't have it, I don't get up and go to work.

"Some people need to have their coffee. I need a hit of speed."

On this October evening, Morgan sat in the living room of his

small and relatively tidy Hesperia apartment, reflecting on his

failed marriage, the lost custody of his kids and his countless

drug arrests.

As he spoke, narcotics investigators searched bedrooms and

closets, surveying and documenting the various jars and bottles

containing chemical ingredients used to make drugs.

The handcuffs binding his wrists gave testimony to yet another

time when meth caused his luck to run out.

This time, his second felony arrest in barely three months came

after sheriff's deputies chasing a trail of counterfeit $20 bills

found a small methamphetamine lab in a bedroom. The bogus money

belonged to the son of Morgan's girlfriend, police said. The lab,

capable of producing only a few grams of drugs at a time, belonged

to Morgan.

"I'm basically a good dude," said Morgan, who would be sentenced

to two years in prison two weeks later after pleading guilty to a

charge of intending to manufacture methamphetamine . "I'd like

nothing better than to quit."

But the small lab in the Hesperia apartment would be just one of

several dismantled by the drug agents that day.

As Morgan's head slipped through the doorway of a police car for

his trip to jail, sheriff's deputies sifted through another boxed


methamphetamine lab in the garage of a home less than five miles

away in Victorville. (A boxed lab is an unassembled collection of

chemicals and equipment that can be used to manufacture

methamphetamine .)

Earlier that day, deputies uncovered the remnants of a

large-capacity Mexican cartel methamphetamine lab hidden in a shed

behind a house in south Fontana Q apparently abandoned days, maybe

weeks before.

Amid the rubber trash cans and plastic buckets, investigators

found no signs of valuable equipment, such as heating plates and

22-liter glass cooking flasks similar to those used by professional

chemists.

Also gone was the finished methamphetamine - maybe as much as a

hundred pounds - worth a half-million dollars in the Inland Empire

and twice that in other parts of the country.

Labs often are discovered after a suspect hoping to secure

lenient treatment tips officers about bigger fish nearby. Other

times, finding tiny household manufacturing operations comes as the

result of a lucky break.

On Sept. 29, Cathedral City police looking for a handgun used in

a pistol-whipping incident served a search warrant at the home of a

parolee.

Inside a converted auto workshop, officers found an extensive


methamphetamine lab containing 36 gallons of liquid methamphetamine

capable of producing more than $180,000 worth of finished drug.

On Oct. 17, members of San Bernardino County's Methamphet-amine

Interdiction Team quietly followed a pair of suspected drug

traffickers to Pico Rivera in Los Angeles County.

The surveillance led to a single-story home in a well-kept

middle-class neighborhood, where officers found a large-capacity

methamphetamine lab and thousands of bottles of pseudoephedrine, a

key ingredient in the drug.

Day after day, week after week, the names and locations vary but,

increasingly, the drug of choice remains the same.

"I don't feel like we're having an impact based on my caseload,"

said Marie Fournier, who prosecutes high-level narcotics cases for

the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

Still, some law-enforcement officers remain optimistic that

public pressure and government attention to the problem will

someday help stem the plague.

More than three years ago, federal drug agents based in Riverside

launched a nationwide investigation into the massive problem of

pseudoephedrine diversion. In 1997, authorities estimated that

illicit methamphetamine makers in California may have diverted

enough pseudoephedrine to manufacture 29 tons of the drug.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration tracks so-called "rogue"

companies, which distribute off-brand pseudoephedrine that is

packaged for retail sale but almost never reaches store shelves.

Nearly all off-brand pseudoephedrine Q which is not sold in drug

stores or grocery stores Q goes to meth labs, drug agents said.

Large-scale suppliers sell to distributors who deal the

pseudoephedrine in large quantities to mini-markets, gas stations

and other small businesses , said Richard Keller, assistant special

agent in charge of the DEA office in Riverside. Small businesses

have no legitimate market for shipments that, at times, have

totaled hundreds of cases, Keller said.

A standard case of pseudoephedrine contains 3,600 tablets and

yields about a pound of methamphetamine .

State and federal regulations enacted in the mid-1990s restricted

the size of retail pseudoephedrine sales and instituted reporting

and record-keeping requirements.

Pseudoephedrine's street value has risen from $800 a case in 1997

to about $1,500 today, Keller said.

When agents served search warrants in New York, Indiana and

Montana two years ago, two of the largest suppliers stopped selling

pseudoephedrine, Keller said.

But new suppliers filled the void, including some from Mexico.

"We're seeing millions and millions of tablets at the

Mexican-national level," he said.

Several mid-level distributors have been indicted throughout the

United States. So far, none of the largest suppliers has been

charged, but Keller said he hopes that will change.

Tougher restrictions on sales are needed, he said.

Keller favors requiring a doctor's prescription for

pseudoephedrine but concedes that is unlikely.

"It's like trying to put aspirin on a prescription," he said.

Still, he is hopeful the meth epidemic can be stopped.

"As we've seen in the past, the government has prevailed with

every kind of social crisis," Keller said. "It's not a hopeless

situation."




Eric Vilchis 7/13/2018



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