A methamphetamine trafficking ring was shut down Wednesday when narcotics officers from Carson City and Great Falls, Mont., joined forces in a series of raids, arrests and drug seizures, officials said.
By midmorning, 17 suspects were arrested in Carson City, Mark Twain and Gardnerville, and five suspects, including the suspected ringleader, were being held in Montana.
"Somebody came to the (Tri-Net Interagency Narcotics) task force and said 'Hey, we know this guy who's making meth,'" said David Hosmer, deputy chief at the state division of investigation. "People on the street wanted these drugs first because of the purity."
Hosmer said the methamphetamine that investigators were after was called "Blue Ribbon" and is suspected to be 70 percent to 80 percent pure, making it ideal for injecting. The task force had been monitoring the suspects since February with surveillance and wire taps.
Wednesday's operation started before 6 a.m. when approximately 50 officers were dispatched to 15 sites. Included in the raids were two convenience stores where the owner, Shahawali Abdulwahabzada, 34, is suspected of selling pseudoephedrine, a key methamphetamine ingredient, out the back door.
Raids were conducted in the Great Falls, Mont.-area at eight sites, said Lt. Jim Bruckner of the Cascade County Sheriff's Department. "We found a lab and another garage that had the precursors to a lab," he said. "Methamphetamine is a substantial problem and today was a good step."
In all, five suspected lab sites were uncovered.
Kenneth Chandler, 50 , and Melvin T. Cowperthwaite, 48, were arrested in the raid of a Montana motel room. Both have Carson City addresses. Chandler is a suspected ringleader in the methamphetamine trade, Hosmer said.
Included in the raids were the Dayton Valley Corner Store and Country Store Food Mart in Carson City. Abdulwahabzada is suspected of selling cartons of over-the-counter cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine for more than triple the wholesale value.
In the warrant for his arrest, he is charged with conspiracy to violate the controlled substances act, a felony. The amount seized at the Country Store alone is enough to make approximately seven pounds of pure methamphetamine, one drug agent said.
A "boxed lab" was found at 294 Prospector Road, Carson City, where Robert R. Roberts, 46, and J. Novak, 29, were arrested. Materials and chemicals commonly used in methamphetamine production were found, Hosmer said.
At 2789 Gardner Lane in Carson City, a basement smelled of recent drug production, although no production materials were found, officials said. Technicians will test for drug residue to determine whether a lab existed at the house. Robert Beattie, 33, Bruce Peart, 48, Brian Mitchell, 39, and Christina Moriarty, 30, were arrested in a raid of that house.
"If you know the smell, you know there was a lab here," Hosmer said at the Gardner Lane home. "We think he took off with it when he went to Montana."
In the back yard, 20 vehicles and two motorboats were being stored along with miscellaneous bicycles, power tools and industrial equipment. Investigators recorded serial numbers and cataloged the merchandise to determine if it was stolen or used illegally.
Kimberly Rigdon, 43, was arrested at 608 North Nevada St, Carson City; Larry Powers, 54, and Erica Crandell, 46, were arrested at 1191 East Long St., Carson City; Marvin and Kyle Higday, 43 and 24, were arrested at the Plaza Motel, Carson City; Russell D. Robinson, 48, and Teddy J. Peterson, 49, were arrested at 2350 Poole Way, Carson City, and Cathy Wurster, 41, was arrested at 1630 East Long Street No. 10, Carson City. In Gardnerville, Rebecca Wilcox, age unknown, and Gary Sabino, 43, were arrested at 1123 Azul Way.
During the 10-month investigation, the task force believes the suspects were responsible for the manufacture and distribution of 60 pounds of pure methamphetamine with a street value of more than $1 million.
The 22 suspects were charged with methamphetamine possession and distribution charges pending further investigation. As many as 46 additional arrests will be sought in connection with the case, authorities said.
At the 1630 East Long house, three children were discovered and handed over to their grandmother after Wurster was arrested. "They were three very cute children," Detective Kate Summers said. "You have to have sympathy for them."
Another girl was placed with relatives after she was discovered at the Gardnerville home.
At least $5,000 cash and 2 pounds of methamphetamine were seized, along with several smaller quantities of marijuana. At least three pistols, one rifle and two shotguns were also recovered.
At the home on Gardner Lane a surveillance camera was hooked to a small monitor. Officers coordinated the searches to prevent other suspects from being warned.
Also arrested in Montana were father and son David Adkins, 50, and Chris Adkins, 18. David Adkins was caught without incident after a short vehicle pursuit, Bruckner said. A fifth suspect, 33-year-old Joe Flood, was detained by Montana authorities.