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Watch Now: Drug cartels fueling Mountain Empire’s meth epidemic – Bristol Herald Courier

Two Bristol men have been in jail for years trying to bring Mexico-produced methamphetamine into the mountain kingdom – a growing problem fueled by addiction and powerful drug cartels.

Shawn Wayne Farris, formerly Cathedral City, California, and Sean Maidlow, formerly from Pomona, California, lived in the twin city for only a few years, but investigators say they have a large amount of meth – produced in the region Mexican super laboratories – delivered.

Federal investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration began investigating the couple's drug trafficking organization in Bristol in early 2017. This is evident from documents filed with the US District Court in Abingdon, Virginia. Investigators said the organization was responsible for trading crystal meth between southern California and areas in southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee.

In recent years, meth has shifted from manufacturing in secret shake and bake laboratories to super laboratories operated by Mexican drug cartels.

"Over the years, we have started introducing meth to the methamphetamine drug cartel in Sullivan County," Deputy District Attorney Gene Perrin said in a recent interview. "It started slowly, but it continued to pick up speed."

Perrin works with local narcotics officers and coordinates with others in the region. He helped investigate Farris and Maidlow because narcotics officers were watching their efforts in Sullivan County.

Since the nation was hit by an opioid epidemic, law enforcement agencies have shifted their focus from meth. As a result, Perrin said meth had become one of his biggest problems in the mountain kingdom.

"Shake and Bake" Boom

From 1995 in the United States saw a boom in the number of "Shake and Bake" or "One-Pot" -Meth laboratories. The Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia regions recorded thousands of meth laboratory discoveries from 2000 to 2010.

The one-pot laboratories reached epidemic proportions. Anyone can make meth using easily available household goods and consumer goods like pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient.

"The best cooks, the most efficient cooks, can usually produce one gram of meth per gram of pseudoephedrine," said Perrin.

A cook in Sullivan County and the surrounding area could take a box of pseudoephedrine from the store and produce about 3 grams of meth. The meth could be reduced and effectiveness would decrease, but more product could be sold to replenish the supply, Perrin said.

"But there were many factors that led to the explosion of the methamphetamine drug cartel," said Perrin.

Setbacks for cooks

a year A law was signed in 2005 that required proof of identification for the purchase of pseudoephedrine, a decongestant used to treat nasal fluid, sinus congestion in Tennessee and elsewhere, and limited the amount of pseudoephedrine that a person could buy.

"Most cooks would have to use smurfs or individuals who would buy pseudoephedrine," Perrin said.

The Smurfs would then sell it to the cook or exchange it for meth. As soon as the cook secured enough chemicals he used the one-pot method, which often used a plastic bottle.

The one-pot method was particularly dangerous. Fires and explosions were common in the region and sent many people to the hospital.

"After going through the shake and bake process and hoping that the thing wouldn't blow you up, they went to produce 2 to 3 grams of methamphetamine," said Perrin .

During the "Shake and Bake" epidemic, vice detectives could only find small amounts of meth since a cook could only sell a few grams.

The small laboratories only produced one powder form. In order to convert it to crystal meth or ice, one person had to take additional steps to make it. Ice is much stronger than powder.

Finally, the one-pot laboratories decreased and the meth drug cartel entered the mountainous area. Meth from Mexico is already in the form of crystals and is more numerous.

“The meth drug cartel has exploded in this area. It's flooding our streets, ”said Perrin.

An overwhelming majority of methane in Sullivan County comes from the Atlanta interstate system. Police officers say a number of people from the Mountain Empire travel to Atlanta to transport meth. According to Perrin, about 10 to 20 kilos of meth come to Sullivan County every week.

Cartels Control Meth Distribution

"Methamphetamine is the most popular drug of choice in the area," said Washington County's sheriff, Blake Andis, Virginia. "Most of the methamphetamine we are currently seizing comes from drug dealers who bring it to the area for resale from areas like Atlanta, Georgia."

Here, the meth cartel quickly becomes one of the established dealers Distributed location and then on to the end user.

Almost all of the meth traded in the region is now manufactured in Mexico on an industrial scale by drug trafficking organizations that smuggle their products across the southwestern border to Los Angeles, Phoenix. Dallas, Atlanta and other hubs for distribution across the country, according to DEA.

The DEA said the network had led to record seizures along the border, with an almost 250% increase in methane seizures between 2013 and 2018. In 2018 alone, authorities confiscated nearly 43 tons of meth at the border, said the DEA.

From California to Bristol

The Farris Organization received meth fr according to court records from sources in California. Farris originally moved to Bristol due to family ties, as records show.

Farris had an "insatiable, out of control and long-term drug addiction" that he maintained through drug trafficking, according to a court document filed by his lawyer during the conviction.

The price of meth:

"Stew" -Meth

One gram: USD 100 or more

Eight balls: $ 300- $ 350

One ounce: $ 1,000- $ 1,500

Drug Cartel Meth

One gram: $ 20- $ 50

Eight balls: $ 80- $ 100

One ounce: $ 400- $ 60

Source: Sullivan County Attorney General's Office

Drug addiction led Farris to a series of bad decisions during his life, with some kind of drug accusation accounting for almost half of all crimes for which he was convicted.

Records show that he has several methods of conviction and conviction in California.

Tennessee-born John Ratcliff, now imprisoned for federal drug allegations, told the authorities that Farris and Maidlow were the two largest meth traders in the Mountain Empire. He said he worked for both men to collect drug proceeds and present them to the drug distributors.

Ratcliff informed the authorities that Farris had driven his meth from California and Maidlow had sent it to a different address in Bristol.

In 2017, agents interviewed an informant about buying meth from Farris.

"[Informant] stated that this source of methamphetamine was in a brick house with a long black driveway with two white garage doors near Bristol's Virginia High School," says a criminal complaint to the U.S. District court.

The informant said he was with another man in the residence and helped count $ 250,000. He said he had watched 49 pounds of crystal meth and the other man had made plans to rob the house.

During a later interview, another informant informed the authorities that they had received meth from Farris practically every day.

In June 2017, the police carried out a garbage collection at Farris's house on Garden Lane. They found mail, two cell phone boxes, several plastic bags that had previously been heat-sealed, and receipts from restaurants in California.

The complaint states that drug traffickers frequently transport drugs, especially over long distances

Farris is currently in Gilmer Federal Prison in West Virginia and Maidlow is at the Elkton facility in Ohio. Farris is expected to be released in 2044 and Maidlow in 2033, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

& # 39; Kill Cartels & # 39;

Drug cartels, such as the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, produce most of the meth that hubs reach in Los Angeles and Atlanta. The cartels produce it in "superlabs" all over Mexico. According to the DEA, these laboratories range from small secret facilities to large factories.

Mexican and American narcotics officers regularly investigate and attempt to locate these "superlabs".

Although the Mexican government did, restrictions on meth-precursor chemicals like pseudoephedrine and Mexican cartels continue to adapt by finding alternative methods of making the synthetic product, the DEA said in a 2019 press release. Similarly, cartels are expanding their meth smuggling methods to the United States.

Meth, which can be swallowed, sniffed, injected or smoked, gets into the country through liquid suspensions, pills, powder and broken glass.

While meth is entering the country in its various forms, recrystallization laboratories are being set up nationwide that pose a new threat to citizens – explosions, the DEA said.

In recent years DEA officials have visited Mexican "superlabs" that have been confiscated by the authorities.

It is not known whether local officials have ever visited Mexico.

"Not me and quite honestly, I can't imagine anyone wanting to put their lives in such a danger," said Perrin. "The cartels kill women and children, so killing a drug agent wouldn't be for them."

Perrin added that the cartels have local distribution under control.

"Because they are so ruthless, individuals know better than cross them," said Perrin.

The prosecutor said he knew local traders who would have refused because of the danger, to talk to law enforcement agencies about cartel activities.

I would rather spend my time, "Perrin quoted local traders." & # 39; Because the cartel will kill me in prison, they will kill my whole family in the community to send a message. & # 39; "

The Effect of COVID-19 on Meth Distribution

The COVID-19 pandemic recently broke out Meth Distribution in the Mountain Empire Affected Since people were released from local prisons due to COVID-19 precautions, Perrin said they would use and distribute meth again.

Many inmates prior to discharge are drug addicted, he said.

"The coronavirus and the reduction of the prison population to the streets as well as the infusion of stimulus funds bring drug use to an all-time high," said Perrin. "It is wide open."

Andis said meth had slowed recently since pseudoephedrine was not imported to Mexico from China due to the pandemic. The lack of meth availability locally led to an increase in resale prices from typically $ 200 an ounce to $ 1,000 an ounce, the sheriff said.

"We are now seeing an increase in methamphetamine, an increase in sales and availability." Andis said.

"We just do damage limitation"

Perrin said he believed law enforcement did not have sufficient resources to handle the large amounts of meth released into the company manage to effectively cope with the region.

"We see that our vice units don't even have the capacity they had a few years ago, even though we're dealing with more and more drugs," said Perrin.

Fewer people want to become officers, he added.

"[Cartels] are looking for developing markets and trying to take advantage of them," said Perrin.

Cartels come to the United States region with not only meth but also heroin, fentanyl and other deadly drugs.

"Because we have such a demand for opioids in this area, they hope to take advantage of our growing heroin epidemic," said Perrin.

Heroin has resulted in several lethal overdoses in the region and is one of Perrin's biggest problems.

In 2019, 38% of overdoses in Sullivan County were meth. So far, three out of four people have overdosed on meth this year, according to Sullivan County.

"We will never get anywhere," said Perrin. "We just do damage limitation."

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