By MARK TODD - firstname.lastname@example.org
— Watch video of busts here http://youtu.be/ASFUnnbk_Lk
JEFFERSON - Dozens of people suspected of purchasing excessive amounts of a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine were arrested early Wednesday morning in a series of raids across Ashtabula County.
Forty-three people were picked up at locations in every corner of the county, County Prosecutor Thomas Sartini said at a press conference in Jefferson. Five additional arrests were also made, and two more were arrested on outstanding — but unrelated — warrants, he said. In addition, meth labs were discovered in Andover, Orwell, Saybrook, Ashtabula and Conneaut, Sartini said.
Sixty-seven people were secretly indicted by the Ashtabula County grand jury on July 26, Sartini said. Authorities are confident they will locate many of the remaining 24 people, he said.
All of those arrested are accused of buying pseudoephedrine, used to make meth. They will be charged with the illegal assembly of chemicals for the manufacture of drugs and the manufacture of the drug “in Ashtabula and surrounding counties,” the press release states. Most of the charges are second- or third-degree felonies, which can result in prison time, Sartini said.
As arrests were made, the suspects were brought to Jefferson and arraigned before Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Yost. Most posted bond and were released. A few of those named in warrants were already in jail or prison for meth-related crimes, officials said.
Some 120 law enforcement and safety personnel from 21 agencies were involved in the raids, dubbed “Operation Meth Death,” which began at 6 a.m., after receiving assignments at the Spire Institute in Harpersfield Township. None of the people targeted in the raids resisted arrest and no officers were injured.
“It was a very, very successful operation,” Sartini said.
The people arrested are accused of buying quantities of pseudoephedrine, the primary ingredient in meth. Purchases are carefully documented and it was the examination of store records that uncovered people buying more than the allowable amounts, Sartini said. People can legally buy 9 grams of pseudoephedrine in any 30-day period or 3.6 grams in any one day, Sartini said.
Involved in the investigation was Sartini’s office, the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office, and the Geneva, Geneva-on-the-Lake, Madison Township and Jefferson police departments. The chiefs of those department attended the conference and thanked officers who led the investigation. Singled out for special praise were Lt. Tim Brown (Madison Township), Capt. Greg Wiley (Geneva), Sgt. Brian Sterrick (Geneva-on-the-Lake), Patrolman Anthony Wood (Jefferson) and Detective Bryan Rose (sheriff’s office).
The conference, held in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Ronald Vettel, was packed with police officers who helped with Wednesday’s arrests. A follow-up operation that could expand on Wednesday’s arrests will be conducted today in the county by several agencies, officers said.
The arrests were equally distributed around the county, Sartini said. Nearly as many women were arrested as men, judging by a display of the suspects’ photos set up in the courtroom.
Investigations began in earnest late last year, Sartini said. “Over the last nine months, through the diligent efforts of several individuals, we were able to track and put together a series of purchases. We tracked them through the meticulous search of records. They were buying beyond what the law allows.”
Sartini said his office believes those arrested were complicit in the creation of the drug, thereby justifying the manufacturing charge. “They are aiding and abetting (the drug-makers),” he said.
Those who were indicted worked independently but many were probably acquainted, Sartini said.
“If you put them together in a room, they would all shake hands and say hello,” Sartini said. “But it was not one huge conspiracy.”
Wednesday’s raid was the latest — and largest — operation to date aimed at the region’s meth situation. Some high-profile incidents — led by a meth-fueled explosion and fire at a now-closed Ashtabula nursing home that killed one man in early March — have brought plenty of attention to the county. A man involved in the nursing home incident was among those secretly indicted by the grand jury, Sartini said.
Wednesday’s arrests crimped, but didn’t crush, the meth trade in Ashtabula County, Sartini said. Just as important was involving meth-makers and the public that a relatively new method of making the drug, the so-called “shake and bake” process, involves less equipment but is extremely volatile and dangerous
“It puts a pretty good dent in a very big problem, but by no means solves the problem,” he said. “It sends a message to the public that you endanger yourself, your children, families and (others).
“We’re hoping people will start to see the light and live their lives a different way,” Sartini said.
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