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Liquid meth the newest way to fool border agents

Posted: June 14, 2014 7:59 p.m.
Updated: June 14, 2014 7:59 p.m.

In this March 2014 photo provided by PARC Environmental, Jeff Davis, a hazardous materials specialist for PARC Environmental, cleans up a meth conversion lab inside a house in Madera, Calif.


Law-enforcement officials say they’ve detected a new wrinkle in the cross-border trafficking of methamphetamine: drug makers are creating a liquid form of meth to more easily smuggle it into the United States from Mexico.

Dissolved in a solution, the liquid meth can then be sealed in tequila bottles or plastic detergent containers to fool border agents and traffic officers, U.S. authorities say.

Once on this side of the border, the liquid meth is processed into crystals at small conversion labs, often located in residential neighborhoods, officials said.

“There’s no end to the creativity to getting the drug to market when there’s demand,” said Eric L. Olson, a Latin America researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.

Turning to liquid meth is just the latest innovation for transporting drugs for profit, he said. Smugglers have used tunnels, submarines, drones and once, Olson said, a 90-year-old farmer was used as a decoy.

Olson said he witnessed agents seize liquid meth disguised in soda bottles during a 2012 tour of the border crossing at Laredo, Texas.

Calls to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s narcotics unit to see whether officials have encountered liquid meth locally were not returned Friday.

But U.S. Department of Homeland Security Agent Mike Prado told The Associated Press that conversion labs have been increasingly cropping up in California neighborhoods. His agents have found them in densely populated apartment buildings and foreclosed homes.

Some of the conversion operations have caught fire or exploded, he said.

In the conversion process, cooks evaporate off the liquid and use highly combustible chemicals such as acetone to make crystals. The fumes are trapped inside.

“A spark can turn this into a fireball,” Prado said.

Investigators say it’s impossible to know how much liquid meth crosses the border, but border control agents say they have been seeing more of it in the past few years.

In late 2012 a California Highway Patrol officer pulled over a 20-year-old man on Interstate 5 who said he was headed to Oregon from Southern California and seemed nervous. The officer found 15 bottles in the trunk full of dissolved meth but labeled as Mexican tequila.

The man pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and received a federal prison sentence of 46 months.

Three men were indicted last year and await trial after a drug task force found 12 gallons of liquid meth in a Fresno house, along with 42 pounds of the drug ready for sale, four guns and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Prado said law enforcement agencies are always on the lookout for creative ways cartels smuggle meth.

“We’ve become better at detecting certain things,” Prado said. “When they catch on to that, they modify their methods.”

John Donnelly, until recently in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Fresno office, said agents all over the country have tracked liquid meth to California’s Central Valley.

“We’re the source point for Seattle, Portland, Alaska and as far east as the Carolinas,” Donnelly said.

Liquid meth conversion labs also have been found in San Bernardino, where two men were arrested last month when investigators found a conversion lab, 206 pounds of crystal meth and 250 gallons of the liquid capable of producing 1,250 pounds of crystals.

The seized drugs, which investigators suspect came from Mexico, were valued at $7.2 million.

Not all liquid meth makes it across the border. Last year, a 16-year-old from Mexico was stopped at the crossing near San Diego. He volunteered to take “a big sip” to convince inspectors the liquid he had was only apple juice, not meth. The teenager began screaming in pain and died within hours.


ricketzz: Posted: June 15, 2014 8:18 a.m.

There seems to be quite a bit of demand for this stuff. Demand for a banned chemical makes more profits, violence, crime; perhaps adults should have a source less involved with the dark side. Prohibition is worse than drugs.

BTW: people have been driving around with meth "base" in their trunks since the '60s, the narcs are just now catching on.

EgbertSouse4U: Posted: June 15, 2014 8:54 a.m.

Maybe LE should use ramp up their resources to combat this horribly destructive drug instead of wasting so much money going after marijuana.

SReilly12: Posted: June 15, 2014 11:01 a.m.

Colorado via the Huffington Post claims that it had sales of $100 million the first month it was legalized. If it wasn't legal, wonder if these numbers would be the same for illegal purchases???......multiply that by 50 states, I think we have a pot problem!!!

DMeyer: Posted: June 15, 2014 11:10 a.m.

Yeah we know, just legalize it....right? It would be great to have our school teachers, doctors, cops, day care workers, and air traffic controllers all doing crystal meth. What a wonderful society we would have if it wasn't for those darn laws.

chefgirl358: Posted: June 15, 2014 3:38 p.m.

Now I'm waiting for some poster to whine about how this wouldn't happen if we would just legalize everything. I say lock em all up and make all of it illegal.

EgbertSouse4U: Posted: June 16, 2014 11:28 p.m.

Who the hell on here said legalize meth? DMeyer, you have a comprehension problem.

ricketzz: Posted: June 16, 2014 6:15 a.m.

I hinted that letting adults buy the drug safely would make the total danger go down. We'd have unadulterated drugs for the user at a reasonable price and less danger to the rest of us from impromptu chemistry labs in motels and storage lockers, not to mention petty theft crimes to finance the habit. Liberty should include one's own body.

It is true that some speed freaks look to be on death's door, you would be there too if you had to make your medicine out of cold tablets and highway flares and live in the shadows. It is also true that there are less extreme meth heads on the streets today, managing a life and balancing their habit with it. John F Kennedy took meth. It was legal when I was a kid (you needed a prescription, but it could be for liquid meth and syringes-not a big deal before the Hippies.)

DMeyer: Posted: June 16, 2014 2:30 p.m.

Egbert I was being sarcastic. It's surprising but several times we have heard idiots on this board come out in favor of legalizing all drugs. I was making fun of them, I don't know if they realize how dumb they sound, or if they've fried all of their brain cells.

EgbertSouse4U: Posted: June 16, 2014 4:47 p.m.

DMeyer: Sorry I didn't pick up on the scarcasm. Corrected.

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