Lawrence crime, fire, courts coverage
Have a tip?Contact Journal-World reporter Caitlin Doornbos:
Law enforcement officers seized nearly 25 pounds of methamphetamine in Douglas County last week, probably the supply of a Mexican drug cartel that was meant for distribution in the Lawrence area, police announced today.
The methamphetamine, worth almost $1 million if sold by the gram on the street, represented the largest quantity of meth ever seized here, said Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman. It was discovered, along with several thousand dollars in cash and a 9 mm handgun, by officers working in a local drug enforcement unit.
Police will not disclose many details about that investigation that led to the seizure, including when and where the meth was seized. But McKinley said the quantity was unusual enough that police officials wanted to public to know what kind of drug trafficking has been occurring.
“We have a clear and direct connection to the Mexican drug cartel,” McKinley said. “People might think this isn’t happening, but they’re wrong.”
Police have identified local suspects implicated in the meth seizure, but did not immediately arrest them, McKinley said, a choice investigators often make when building a larger drug case. A case is likely to be prosecuted in a federal court sometime in the future, possibly months from now, McKinley said.
A changing marketplace
The neatly-packaged drug crystals the officers piled up today on a conference table at the Lawrence Police Department’s Investigation and Training Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkway, are nothing like the type of methamphetamine that used to be found in Lawrence, McKinley said. Officers investigating drugs in the Lawrence area are finding large quantities of methamphetamine that is far more pure, more valuable to drug dealers, and more destructive.
The investigation involved undercover officers working in the Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit, a team of Lawrence police and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies conducting local drug investigations. McKinley said the drugs were hidden in Douglas County and not seized from a vehicle passing through on its way elsewhere.
Because of the way the drugs were produced and packaged, and from information developed in the investigation, McKinley said, the seizure further confirmed the suspicions of some local investigators that the supply of meth here comes from one of several violent organized crime groups based in Mexico. Organizations such as the Sinaloa cartel have been linked to very large methamphetamine seizures, such as the capture of 15 tons of the drug in Mexico last year.
If the the meth discovered in Douglas County last week came from a lab belonging to one of those groups, it would be typical of what communities across the United States have seen, according to David Mizell, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Kansas City.
While methamphetamine was once produced all over the rural United States in small, clandestine laboratories in trailers and motel rooms, new laws have restricted access to needed chemicals here. As domestic production waned, according to DEA reports, Mexican organized crime groups built “superlabs,” or drug factories, staffed by professional chemists and capable of producing pure methamphetamine in greater quantities than ever before.
McKinley said the meth seized last week probably came from one of those laboratories. It may have been smuggled north to Douglas County on Interstate Highway 35, which federal agencies such as the DEA have identified as a major U.S. corridor for many kinds of contraband, including meth, marijuana and cocaine.
“They just flooded the market,” one undercover officer said.
Effects felt throughout the community
The new methamphetamine market affects everyone, McKinley said. The cost to the user, who can snort, smoke or inject the drug, is a risk of health problems and a powerful daily addiction. The cost to society is the crime that goes with the addiction, including identity theft and burglaries. Police recently linked a string of break-ins at storage units in Lawrence to methamphetamine, and officers from the drug enforcement unit say there are many more similar cases.
The cheaper and more pure the drug, police say, the more severe the effects. And as police send samples of the methamphetamine seized last week to a lab for analysis, they expect to find it is extremely pure. At the moment, meth sells on the street for $80 or $100 per gram and about $24,000 per pound. Sold by the pound, the supply seized last week would be worth about $600,000. Sold by the gram, it would be worth close to $1 million.