Grappling With Meth: How Did It Get Here?

By chillinwill · Nov 30, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Law Enforcement Has Fought The Constantly Evolving Threat Of Meth Addiction And Manufacturing Since Its First Appearance In 1988.

    ELKHART -- Less than a year after a series of significant arrests in 2005, members of Elkhart County's undercover law enforcement unit concluded they had crippled a drug-trafficking organization importing Mexican methamphetamine into the area.

    But in that eight months, the market for meth had been established. The drug began affecting Elkhart County in a violent new way. Small, volatile and dangerous homemade labs began cranking out meth.

    Now, the offenders are also the victims: members of our own community, addicted to a cheap and readily available drug.


    Indiana State Police first reported meth in Indiana in 1988. By 2003, the Elkhart County Drug Task Force knew it was fighting a different battle than the rest of the Midwest.

    "At that particular time, most of the meth that you would hear about in the Midwest was meth-lab related," said Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis T. Hill Jr. "While people were talking about meth labs in many of the rural parts of Indiana, we were talking about the imported meth that was coming here."

    Members of drug-trafficking organizations were smuggling the drug from Mexico or from super-labs along the United States border and Pacific Coast, Hill said, and bringing it to Elkhart, Ind.

    The meth was "good quality, low-priced and lot's of it," Hill said.


    In 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Elkhart County Drug Task Force, and South Bend and Elkhart police began investigating the drug-trafficking organization led by Francisco Aguirre.

    A cell of the Oregon-based drug-trafficking organization had been trafficking bulk methamphetamine at low prices from 2002 to 2006 to establish new markets, Wichern said. They used Elkhart, largely because of its location between Detroit and Chicago and its access to the Indiana Toll Road, said Dennis Wichern, assistant special agent in charge at the DEA-Indianapolis.

    Police arrested seven members of Aguirre's gang in 2005 and seized 12 pounds of methamphetamine in Elkhart, Wichern said. Over the next three years, police in northern Indiana arrested eight more members -- including Aguirre -- and seized 48 pounds of meth, 30 kilograms of cocaine, 2 ounces of heroin, $75,000 cash and six weapons.

    "Often when law enforcement seems to dismantle an organization, someone steps up and quickly reorganizes it," Wichern said. "But in this case, it was done."


    During the meth investigation, the newly-formed Elkhart County Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Unit decided to branch off and initiate its own assault on Mexican methamphetamine, Hill said.

    "They're looking to build a historic case that may take months, years going back to the source," Hill said. "While that happens, a local community like Elkhart can really get the brunt of it."

    Within a couple of years, the effort wrapped up with series of major arrests and significant drug and money seizures, he said.

    The price of meth climbed from $4,000 to $17,500 per pound, essentially putting "an end to that huge influence of methamphetamine from the Mexican market," Hill said.

    But it also was the beginning of a new phenomenon, at least for the Elkhart County area.

    The supply had suddenly shrunk, but the demand remained, Hill said. When users could no longer buy on the streets, he said, they start looking for alternative sources.

    "Then you start to see the shift," Hill said.


    "When you have a significant demand for such a nasty thing as meth, that tells you something about your community that you just don't want to hear," Hill said. "But we have to all listen to it and recognize it because it is the focal point of trying to address the demand."

    Earlier this year, the prosecutor's office produced multiple public-awareness commercials depicting meth labs in an average home, not the "nasty facade" that people often imagine for a lab setting, Hill said. Anyone can get hooked on meth, Hill said, and meth labs can be right next door.

    "The problem is going to be when that house blows up and it has someone in the house that is innocent, like a child, or someone next door," Hill said.

    Neighborhoods decline when people lose their property and houses are sitting vacant for months or years because they were raided and condemned, Hill said.

    "It is a huge trickle effect in terms of how you want your community to be, to look, to feel at the end of the day," Hill said.


    Numerous statistics say Elkhart County is the top county in Indiana when it comes to meth labs, but Hill isn't so sure.

    "I can't tell you if we have more meth than other locations in Indiana. What I can tell you is that we have apparently discovered more or exposed more," Hill said.

    The goal now, Hill said, is cracking down on those who manufacture and distribute methamphetamine while fighting the ongoing battle against those trying to bring it in.

    Even broader challenges than arresting offenders, though, is attacking the demand for meth, Hill said. That demand -- the addiction -- proves to be one of the worst, which makes fighting this epidemic from a treatment standpoint nearly impossible on the government level.

    "The statistics that I've heard are so low that throwing a great deal of resources at it trying to treat people from this addiction is really problematic," Hill said.

    That leaves users, even those trying to recover, vulnerable to the drug-traffickers that started the meth plague in Elkhart County.

    In November 2008, the ICE unit uncovered a plot to get Mexican meth back into Elkhart County. That meth made it to a home on C.R. 22, where police confiscated 18 pounds of pure Mexican methamphetamine with the potential street value of $1.6 million in January.

    People need to realize how close meth is to them, their homes and their families, Hill said. When they know "they have skin in the game," he said, people tend to get more vested in the solutions -- largely by picking up the phone and reporting suspicious activity.

    "Those challenges are not insurmountable if we are all working on the same page," Hill said.


    - - 1987: Elkhart County Drug Task Force, mostly formed to react to drug incidents, is formed.

    - - 1988: Meth and meth labs are first identified in southern Indiana.

    - - 1994: Indiana State Police have worked three meth labs and know of 401 meth-related cases throughout the state.

    - - 2002: For the first time, the number of meth-related cases submitted to state police exceeds the number of powdered cocaine cases reviewed by ISP.

    - - 2003: Curtis T. Hill Jr. is elected Elkhart County Prosecutor and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Unit is formed to take a new, direct approach to drug problems.

    Also in 2003, the unit, under the Elkhart County prosecutor's office, begins working with the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal entities investigating a drug-trafficking organization ( DTO ) dealing large quantities of meth in Elkhart.

    - - 2004: Hill testifies to the House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform about the growing problem of methamphetamine.

    - - 2004 - 2005: The Elkhart County Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Unit launches an independent investigation into the DTO targeting Elkhart.

    - - 2005: Seven members of that DTO are arrested. Over 12 pounds of methamphetamine is seized in Elkhart.

    - - 2006: The Interdiction and Covert Enforcement Unit forms under the supervision of the Elkhart County prosecutor's office with the aim of proactively fighting drug crimes by targeting upper-level subjects in organized crime.

    Also, in 2006, four more members of the DTO are arrested and charged in South Bend federal court.

    - - 2007 - 2008: Four more members of the DTO are arrested, concluding the investigation.

    - - 2008: In March, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore pulled four of six city officers off the ICE unit. On the same day, Hill asked that all of Elkhart officers leave the ICE team, calling Moore's move "the single most devastating setback in public safety in the last 10 years."

    Also, Indiana State Police reports that Elkhart County ranks second in the state for the most meth labs seized in 2008. There were 50 meth labs in the city of Elkhart, making the City with a Heart the top city in the state for meth labs in 2008.

    - - 2009: In January, the ICE unit seizes 18 pounds of pure Mexican methamphetamine with the potential street value of $1.6 million. This is the first known attempt of drug cartels to establish a market in Elkhart County since 2007.

    In February, the Elkhart County prosecutor's office launches its "We Won't Stop" campaign with public awareness television and radio commercials about meth labs in average neighborhoods.

    Amelia Jeffirs
    November 29, 2009
    The Truth

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  1. chillinwill
    Grappling With Meth: Local landlords, property owners foot the bill for cleanup Part 2 of 5

    Barbara Simpson has never tried methamphetamine in her 74 years, but she's invested at least $5,000 in it.
    A June 2008 meth lab fire on her property cost Simpson thousands after a family friend's travel trailer blew up. Simpson had to dispose of the camper and the dirt 12 inches underneath it and 10 feet on each side of the trailer.

    Meanwhile, the man who was cooking meth in the trailer walked away with his wallet intact. He is serving eight years in prison.

    "If I would have had any idea, he wouldn't have been here," Simpson said.

    Some people cook meth in one-pot mobile labs, in car trunks, on the side of roads, or -- as in an Elkhart case earlier this fall -- in a backpack in the middle of a busy park, yards away from kids watching a baseball game and others rolling down ramps in the skate park.

    Still others mix the solvents, acids, bases and ammonia in their kitchen sinks or bathtubs. Unsuspecting homeowners and landlords are left to foot the bill when their trusted tenants and family members cook volatile meth components.

    Simpson isn't done cleaning up other people's meth mistakes. Another meth lab sits untouched in her garage. Her 54-year-old son had been cooking meth in a 28-foot house boat there. Simpson had no clue until police knocked on her door last December, saying they had a lead on a meth lab there and asking if they could search the boat.

    Simpson hopes to save the boat with thorough cleaning.

    "I can't afford to hire it out," she said. "If I have to go through it 20 times, I'll have to do it myself."


    When local police find what they believe is a meth lab, they call the Indiana State Police's clandestine lab team to remove the chemicals, which they usually find in a jar or bottle. The county health department posts the property unfit for human habitation and gives the homeowner a list of qualified inspectors. The homeowner does not have a time limit in which they must clean the property, but it must pass testing with minimal residue before people can live there again. Exposure to meth making chemicals can cause resipratory problems, dizziness, headaches, confusion and nausea, according to officials with the Elkhart County Health Department.

    In Elkhart County, 35 buildings that formerly contained meth labs still have not been cleaned and deemed fit for occupation, according to records kept by the Elkhart County Health Department and obtained by The Elkhart Truth. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management mandated counties start monitoring meth lab sites in 2007. Of those sites in Elkhart County that hven't been cleaned, 33 were houses or apartments. One was an empty commercial building. One was a car repair shop that's been out of business since the bust there in 2008.

    Since 2007, 40 sites -- mostly houses -- that formerly contained meth labs have been cleaned by homeowners, including Simpson's land.

    "We were responsible, you know, my land," Simpson said. "We were responsible for getting it cleaned up. Between my son and me it was $5,000 or $6,000 to get it cleaned up. That's why I'm kind of taking my time on the second one. Money only goes so far. I'm on a fixed income."

    Once a health department employee notifies the homeowner of the meth lab, the health department has no further means of enforcement, according to Tara Still, an environmentalist with the health department.

    "It's up to the property owner on how quickly or how slowly or if anything gets done at all," Still said. "The property can sit vacant indefinitely."

    And they do, especially if the property owner doesn't have the $10,000 to $30,000 it takes to clean a house, as estimated by the health department.

    Inside one south Main Street property in Elkhart, you can see a moldy jar of food through an upstairs window. Nothing has changed since the April 2007 meth bust there. In all, 12 Elkhart County properties that contained meth labs have sat vacant for at least a year.


    Cleaning these properties involves more than a bucket of suds. Clothing, bedding, dishes, appliances, couches, mattresses and the carpet and padding must be thrown away.

    "The problem is, during the cooking process, all of these chemicals are gassed off," said Still, the environmentalist with the health department. "They soak into every pourus material, and settle onto everything in the structure."

    Every surface in the house must be cleaned. Walls should be washed three times, using a clean bucket and a rinse bucket each time. The house's HVAC and septic systems must be cleaned. Once everything has been scrubbed, the house must pass testing from an IDEM inspector. In order to pass, no more than .5 micrograms per square centimeter of meth can be found on walls.

    "It's not something you can see or smell, so you just have to be diligent," Still said. "People misjudge how much physical effort it takes."


    IDEM lists 39 people as contracted inspectors. Five of them are based in Elkhart County. Homeowners can hire some inspectors to clean their houses, but not all. Inspectors charge anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 to test a home for meth remnants, which includes lab costs, said Steve Mojonnier, senior environmental manager with IDEM.

    Homeowners have one more option besides washing homes thoroughly or leaving the property to sit and deteriorate. They can tear out the home's interior, leaving the bare structure, and can rebuild from there.

    "Some people who don't want their property out of commission for a long time have just found that it can be cheaper and quicker to get it done that way," Mojonnier said. "That depends on what resources are available to them."

    However, if a property owner does not have the money to pay someone to clean the property or doesn't have the time to do it themselves, they may not have any way of dealing with the defunct meth lab.

    "Money is kind of at the root of all of these problems," Mojonnier said.

    Marlowe Yoder has spent two months, $7,000 of homeowners' insurance money and $3,000 of his own money tearing out cabinets and flooring and spraying down walls in a Goshen apartment he rented to someone who turned out to be a meth addict.

    In the 10 years Yoder has rented out properties, this is the first time a tenant has been caught with meth.

    "I figured it could happen to me," he said. "Everybody thinks that and hopes it doesn't. It's just one of those things. What do you do?"

    From the ground, he couldn't tell his upstairs tenant had put up an extra door to divide the kitchen from the rest of the apartment and had set up a separate ventillation system near the windows.

    Police discovered those modifications, along with meth precursors and a one-pot meth lab when they responded to a domestic dispute there in July.

    But now it's Yoder's task to make the apartment safe again.

    "I wish there were more dire consequences for the people that do this," Yoder said. "For what it costs a housing provider, it's phenomenal."

    Emily Monacelli
    November 30, 2009
    E Truth
  2. g666d
    Any chemists want to comment on the toxicity? Is it amalgam they worried about? I can't understand the need... What is this chemical that is so poisoness? Is it worse than DDT?
  3. Alias: V
    What ever happened to talking to your neighbors? Naw, just report them, they're dangerous drug fiends. These neighborhoods aren't going to hell because of meth. If people are dissatisfied, the only place for them to point their fingers is at themselves. Meth can be a terrible drug, don't get me wrong, but this article just makes me wonder how the police can be taken seriously.

    The public grabs their pitchforks and torches with cries to "Kill the Beast! Kill the Beast!" But only when they've killed everything else will they realize that they were the Beast themselves.
  4. Sylentear
    this article will only make people more paranoid, less trustful and less friendly with people around them (neighbors esp.) and make people less informed about meth. making an otherwise nice neighborhood go bad.

    this article isn't going to be very helpful. it has that 'holier than thou' tone to it.
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