Indictment charges 68 with meth production

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Sixty-eight people in the St. Louis region have been indicted on charges tied to illegally buying too much of an over-the-counter drug used to make methamphetamine.

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway called it an "enormous" number of indictments in a state with a national reputation for both meth production and strong efforts to combat the drug.

The first indictment was in February, with seven others in the months after that. Two suspects not yet in custody planned to surrender Tuesday, and some of those involved in the cases had already been sentenced, she said.

Many of those arrested were visiting multiple stores to purchase large quantities of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant in cold remedies that’s an ingredient used in meth production. Several of the suspects, who do not all have ties to one another, bought more than 140,000 pseudoephedrine pills total.

"No one has the sniffles so bad they need 144 pills a day, no one," Hanaway said.

Under federal law, stores are required to record in a log book the purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine. A person can buy 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine a day or 9 grams in 30 days — that’s roughly equal to about 144 cold or sinus pills a month, Hanaway said. Detectives told her of people exceeding their monthly limit in just a day.

Sgt. Tom Murley with the St. Louis County police’s drug enforcement bureau said the investigation started in January, when a fingerprint was found at the site of a meth lab dump on the side of a road. When the person’s name was checked against pseudoephedrine logs from stores, investigators found they had a repeat shopper buying more than allowed by law.

They identified others buying too much pseudoephedrine and linked them to meth cooks through their investigations and interviews. In the indictments, officials tried to link together those buying pseudoephedrine with the "cook" who was receiving the drugs to make meth.

The crimes included possession of pseudoephedrine with cause to believe it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine and conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine. Hanaway said the maximum penalty for such offenses could be 20 years under federal law, though a lengthy sentence would likely be due to someone having a past criminal record. A few people so far have received three- to six-year sentences.

Investigators said they see people cooking up meth in homes with children, in vans and hotel rooms. It’s not unusual to hear of a fire or explosion from a meth lab, and they hoped the latest arrests would help to curb its production and the dangers that go along with it.

There’s a plan to make pseudoephedrine records electronic in Missouri to better compare information between stores, but those buying too much pseudoephedrine often already know they’ve created a paper trail.

Murley said it’s not uncommon to hear a suspect in these cases say, "I figured that eventually you were going to find me."

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