METH 'SUPERLAB' BUSTED
indicted in connection with drug factory near Lewiston
20, 2003 - 7:14 a.m.
U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott announced the indictments Friday at a joint press conference at the Redding Civic Center that credited a variety of north state law enforcement agencies for working together.
Like Colombia and its cocaine crop, America has become the source nation for methamphetamine production, with California largely supplying the rest of the nation, Scott said. Crackdowns in Southern California have driven Mexican nationals to move their meth labs to rural parts of the north state.
"It's not that they're coming here. It's that they are here," he said.
In Trinity County, the alleged meth makers cooked the drug inside a rented cabin southwest of Lewiston, about two miles off Highway 299. The lab produced as much as 60 to 75 pounds of methamphetamine in each batch, qualifying it as a superlab. A pound of the drug fetches about $10,000 wholesale from drug dealers across the United States, Scott said.
Those federally indicted by Scott's office on July 31 and Sept. 11 include Jose Sanchez, 46, of Cottonwood, also known as Jose Luis Gonzalez. Sanchez allegedly led the multimillion-dollar drug operation that shipped crystal methamphetamine as far as Georgia and Florida.
Gordon Taylor, agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Sacramento, said Sanchez has operated in the north state for about two years. He was overseeing methamphetamine production at the cabin near Lewiston for several months before drug agents raided it July 11, Taylor said.
On that day, agents stopped a Ford Explorer leaving the cabin with four or five of the suspects. They found a secret compartment under the vehicle that contained 20 pounds of high-quality crystal meth in Tupperware containers. The compartment's opening was behind a rear tire wheel well and was sealed with Bond-O, then "dirtied up" to further hide it, said Joe Diaz, special agent supervisor for the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
Defendant Arturo Rodgrigo Luna-Rodriguez Jr. , 32, also lived in Cottonwood. Residences were unknown for the remaining defendants: Jesus Ramirez-Ortiz, 33, Alejandro Carrillo, 47, Gabino Sanchez-Gonzalez, 27, Noe Sanchez-Perez, 28, Juan Chipres-Guizar, 30, and Rosa Lara Calderon, 23. Carrillo remained at large Friday.
By filing allegations in federal court rather than state courts, prosecutors can seek stiffer penalties, Scott said.
Diaz estimated Sanchez went by 20 to 30 aliases, even within his own operation, to keep ahead of the law. Agents have been trying to locate his whereabouts for about a year and a half, Diaz said.
"Frankly, we don't know what his real name is. That's fine. He can be John Doe for 20 years in prison," Diaz said.
The indictment from a grand jury in California's eastern district federal court charges the defendants with manufacturing, possession and an intent to distribute meth, among other allegations.
Officials from eight north state drug and law enforcement agencies joined Scott Friday, including Trinity County Undersheriff Dave Laffranchini. Combining drug-fighting forces and finances is the only way Lewiston's superlab was dismantled, Laffranchini said, and he suspects there are more labs yet to be discovered in Trinity County.
"This is a trend,
unfortunately, that we're going to see more of in the north state,"