By CLINT FOSTER
In the aftermath of Thursday's regional drug bust, investigation results suggest this Dallas-based drug ring was supplying methamphetamine to the entire North Central Texas area.
The eight-month investigation led by the City County Narcotics Unit and the Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Department, Mineral Wells Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Constables and the Weatherford-Parker County Special Crimes Unit resulted in 19 arrests – with a few more pending – and the seizure of five firearms, $11,000 cash and a whopping six pounds of crystal meth.
Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said he had "no doubt" that the meth in this case had come from Mexican drug cartels. He explained the men arrested in Dallas likely bought the meth in bulk from cartels through a middle man and then functioned as one of the primary distributors for all of North Texas. Along with the alleged Dallas suppliers, most of those arrested in this drug sting were local street dealers from Palo Pinto County.
"[The drugs] come from the cartels up into Texas and then it's distributed to the big dealers," Mercer explained. "The big dealers, the bulk guys, distribute it out to the street guys. It's a lucrative business because there's a lot of cash moving around. If you put that dope that we got the other day into just gram form and sold it by the gram, that would be close to $100,000 worth of dope."
Like most mainstream products, each gram of meth typically takes a long road before it ends up in a user's hand on the street. Mercer explained that in a drug ring like the one busted Thursday, typically the meth first comes across the border from Mexican cartels in a liquid form. It is then crystalized – or cooked – by an intermediary before being distributed to major suppliers, like the men in Dallas. From suppliers, the drugs then go down the line eventually landing in the hands of street dealers, whom Mercer said are often users themselves.
The meth seized in this bust was in a pure form called "ice." In this form, the meth is far too potent and dangerous to use, so dealers typically use a process called "cutting" or "stepping on it," as Mercer said law enforcement calls it. This is a process of adding pollutants to the meth, such as baking soda or B-12, that not only makes the drug less potent – so as to not kill a user in one dose – but also bulks it up, so that dealers can sell more of it.
"By the time you do all that, that little six pounds of dope we got could be worth upwards of $200,000," Mercer said.
Mercer explained that the more times a particular amount of meth changes hands, the more expensive it gets. He compared the underground industry to the car business.
"A car's manufactured, it goes to a dealer, then it goes to the client and everybody's going to make a little money off of it," he said. "That's the thing is once you get down to the street level, they're not really making that much money, but they're supplying themselves, supplying their habit and making some money. It's like a wholesale deal. Whenever you buy a bunch of that stuff from the source, it's not as expensive as it is once you cut it, put it in the bag, go out on the street and sell it to somebody."
Mercer added it is very hard to pull off a large-scale bust like this because these rackets tend to operate as anonymously as possible. Mercer said suppliers usually change their phone numbers every 30 days and deal with people exclusively on a first name or nickname basis. Of course, they also deal exclusively in cash.
"It's a difficult thing to deal with," Mercer said. "Nobody wants to get caught; they don't do it in front of two district judges and a notary public."
Fighting drug use in any community is a constant battle. But what does law enforcement do with a drug once it is seized? After all, six pounds of meth is an awful lot.
Mercer explained the drugs are analyzed, weighed and quantified before being locked away in a secure evidence vault. From their it can be used as evidence in the cases against all those arrested. But ultimately, the meth has to be destroyed. This can be a tricky process, especially considering how often meth labs explode in the process of even making the drug.
"In the old days, we used to flush it down the commode," Mercer said. "But now there's chemical labs that deal with it for us and we have to witness it and sign off on it and all that kind of thing. This quantity of meth is unusual."
Mercer said that, while drugs cannot be totally eliminated from Palo Pinto County, this bust was a major step toward curtailing the local issue.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this group we're dealing with was dealing all over North Central Texas," he said. "I don't think we got all of them, but we certainly got the ones that were bringing it here. Quite frankly, it's pretty disheartening that we can't do anything about the drugs crossing the border. But that's definitely where this is coming from.
"We've done this a number of times over the years and history has proven it's a never-ending battle. We can't quit fighting. Hopefully this will slow it down and help make things better here in Palo Pinto County."