Agents break methamphetamine ring operating in U.S.
MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
Dec. 05, 1997
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal drug agents have seized three methamphetamine labs and arrested 100 people on charges of helping the leading Mexican-based meth gang produce and distribute the drug in this country.
``This is a major organization that had the ability to supply the whole United States,'' James Milford, deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a news conference Friday. He added that those charged were strongly connected to and got precursor chemicals from the Amezcua-Contreras gang, which U.S. officials believe is the largest Mexican meth gang.
One lab, which contained combustible and toxic chemicals abandoned while still cooking, was raided Wednesday across the street from a day-care center and close to two schools in Los Angeles. Another lab was located on the grounds of a public horse-riding stable in the Los Angeles area.
``The operation was dangerous; it was difficult, and it took meticulous planning and coordination'' between seven federal and 35 state and local law enforcement agencies, Attorney General Janet Reno said.
``We are disrupting the meth trade,'' she added. ``We are not going to let meth spread across America the way crack did in the 1980s.''
Reno said a total of 100 people had been arrested in California, Texas and North Carolina through Friday in the 9-month-long Operation Meta. DEA officials said the operation had produced arrest warrants for 125 people and they conducted 32 searches.
During the operation, agents seized 133 pounds of methamphetamine, 90 gallons of solution that would produce 260 to 290 pounds of the drug, 220 pounds of cocaine, 1,300 pounds of marijuana and $2 million in profits that were being returned to Mexico, the Justice Department said.
Wholesale prices of illegal methamphetamine vary widely in this country based on availability. One pound can cost $3,500 to $5,000 on the West Coast, where meth is most plentiful, or $23,000 to $25,000 on the East Coast.
Among those arrested were Rafael Anguiano-Chavez, alleged head of the gang's Los Angeles cell, and Daniel Virgen, alleged chief of its Dallas operation, DEA officials said.
They said the gang has headquarters in Colima, Mexico, and shipped chemicals used to produce meth to three laboratories in the Los Angeles area. The gang sold the meth in California and shipped some to Dallas for sale, they said.
The Dallas operation traded meth for cocaine, which was shipped to Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., for sale, the officials said.
In a lab seized Wednesday night in Los Angeles, agent surveillance was detected just before the raid and the operators locked and left the lab with chemicals cooking just 50 feet from a day-care center and near a housing project and school, DEA officials said. ``It was a potential time bomb,'' said one agent.
Another lab in Acton, Calif., in a bunkhouse of the Acton Equestrian Center, was raided in late October. Employees unbeknownst to the stable's owners were cooking amphetamines near where the public, including the daughter of one federal agent, came to ride horses, the officials said.
The Amezcua-Contreras gang, led by three brothers, Jesus, Luis and Adan, is believed by U.S. officials to be the largest Mexican drug organization supplying illegal amphetamines in this country and also is a major supplier of precursor chemicals to other gangs that do smaller business in methamphetamines.