08/19/09 — Thirty sought in meth raids in Mount Olive area

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Thirty sought in meth raids in Mount Olive area

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 19, 2009 1:46 PM

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Mount Olive police officers C.J. Weaver, left, and J. Gonzales escort a suspect into the Mount Olive Police Department Wednesday morning.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive police, aided by officers from surrounding law enforcement agencies, took more than a dozen suspects into custody early today in a drug roundup aimed at slicing into the methamphetamine trafficking in the area.

The first two suspects, a woman and a man hiding his face with his T-shirt, nabbed in the early morning drug roundup, were brought to the police station in handcuffs less than 30 minutes after officers from five different departments fanned out over an area spanning three counties -- Wayne, Duplin and Sampson.

The raid was the culmination of an eight-month investigation called "Operation Stop Smurf'in" by the Mount Olive Police Department into the practice of "smurf'in" in which people purchase the legal drug pseudoephedrine for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine (meth).

By 8:30 a.m., 17 of the 30 suspects were in custody. Another four were already in jail.

Nearly 50 officers from the Mount Olive and Goldsboro police departments and the sheriff's offices in Wayne, Duplin and Sampson counties gathered at the police station around 5:30 this morning to be briefed. The officers set out around 6:30 a.m. with felony warrants for 30 suspects, all of whom were charged with distributing pseudoephedrine, a meth precursor.

None of the suspects live in Mount Olive, Mount Olive police Chief Ralph Schroeder said.

The suspects were interviewed at the police station and were taken to the Wayne County jail in a Wayne Sheriff's Office bus.

A number of the suspects have had brushes with the law in the past, Schroeder said.

"The reason we are doing it so early is that we are hoping a lot of them are still in bed when we get there," he said. "There is a good possibility we may get a little more than half because a lot of times in these kind of situations you have to chase them down."

Many of those arrested are suspected of making repeated buys of pseudoephedrine, which they then take to somebody who can "cook" the meth, Schroeder said.

Each pharmacy is required by law to maintain a log of purchases of the drug, and people have to show an ID and sign the log.

"This (investigation) is taking the times they have been to these stores," Schroeder said. "It will show a certain period of time and excessive buying. You can only buy so much at time."

And the pseudopehedrine is not all the officers might find, Schroeder added.

"What may end up happening this morning is, and it is not beyond the scope of possibility, that when they go serve these warrants that they may run up on a lab, a meth lab or remnants of a meth lab," he said. "If they do, we have the SBI here and the SBI will call in a cleanup team to take care of the problem."

Schroeder praised Ptl. Hunter Martin who is the case officer and who spearheaded the investigation.

"Basically, he has researched the logs," Schroeder said. "He and Capt. Tommy Brown met with the district attorney's office and this frees Tommy up for other drug cases. Martin has experience with pseudoephedrine and meth laws. Det./Sgt. C.J. Weaver helped as far as getting the teams ready. But most of this is Hunter's baby.

"It was something that we needed to do. I have had people say to me, 'You guys ain't doing anything about the meth.' Well, we have been. It has just been where people can't see it and I can't say anything about. Like I told them, we are working on the problem. This is not the only time that we are going to do this. We've got other things in the works."

Schroeder expressed his appreciation to the officers and departments who participated.