FRESNO, Calif. (AP) In methamphetamine’s seedy underworld, traffickers are disguising the drug as a liquid to smuggle it into the United States from Mexico.
Dissolved in a solution, it’s sealed in tequila bottles or plastic detergent containers to fool border agents and traffic officers. Once deep in California’s Central Valley, a national distribution hub, meth cooks convert it into crystals â the most sought-after form on the street.
Tough policing has driven the highly toxic super-labs south of the border where meth is manufactured outside the sight of U.S. law enforcement, but the smaller conversion labs are popping up domestically in neighborhoods, such as one in Fresno where a house exploded two years ago.
People inside the home had sealed it tightly so the tale-tell fumes didn’t give them away.
“These guys, they don’t have Ph.D.s in chemistry,” said Sgt. Matt Alexander of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. “They’re focused on not getting caught.”
Investigators say it’s impossible to know how much liquid meth crosses the border, but agents in Central California say they have been seeing more of it in the past few years.
A California Highway Patrol officer in late 2012 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 in late 2013 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.
Officers raided a Madera home earlier this year, finding a lab used to convert liquid meth into 176 pounds of crystals with a street value over $1 million. Nobody was arrested, but agents said the bust dealt a blow to the organization behind the lab.
Mike Prado, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigation’s Fresno office, 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.”