Pubdate: Mon, 27 Aug 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Author: Richard Fausset And Andrew Blankstein, Times Staff Writers
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Drugs: Some Antelope Valley Civic Leaders Are Taken Aback By The 
Arrests Of Three Local Merchants In 18-Month Operation That Put 293 
People In Custody.

An 18-month methamphetamine sting in north Los Angeles County that 
culminated Tuesday didn't just lead to the arrests of known white 
supremacists, motorcycle gang members and allegedly low-level drug 

Several prominent Antelope Valley businessmen with ties to the biker 
culture were also among those taken into custody.

There was Lance Pompey, a Harley-Davidson enthusiast and owner of 
Quartz Hill Glass and Mirror, whose code for meth pickups, 
investigators allege, was, "Hey, your glass is ready." There was Dale 
Combs, owner of Dale's Precision Machining, who allegedly produced 
100 to 200 pounds of speed a month. His preferred shipping method: 
inside custom-made steering columns, authorities said.

And there was former Palmdale Chamber of Commerce member Robert 
Williams, a paint shop owner known nationally for his work 
customizing Harleys. He was a sponsor of one of the area's largest 
charity events, the annual "Thunder on the Lot" motor show.

Investigators believe Williams joined the chamber to keep tabs on 
local initiatives that could stymie what they allege was a booming 
methamphetamine business.

The suspects were connected to a loose organization of six major 
speed manufacturing cells, most of them in the Antelope Valley, 
according to allegations filed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies. It is 
alleged that all of the cells had ties to white power and outlaw 
biker groups.

Though Antelope Valley civic leaders welcomed the sweep, some were 
surprised to learn that businessmen were among those arrested.

The Mojave Desert, which encompasses the Antelope Valley, is home to 
countless motorcycle enthusiasts, and many residents maintain that 
there's a solid line between good bikers and cycling's few bad 
apples. But Tuesday's sting has challenged that perception.

"Some of the folks picked up were substantial citizens, in the eyes 
of some people," Lancaster Mayor Frank C. Roberts said. "They were 
not the kinds of people who were necessarily very active in 
fund-raisers or community betterment, but they were not the low-life 
either. They were not the kind of folks who were supposed to be 
handling methamphetamine."

Some of the 293 people arrested over the last 18 months met at a 
popular charity event, the "Thunder on the Lot" car and motorcycle 
show, which raised $100,000 in June for local children's charities.

Investigators with the joint DEA and sheriff's operation say it's 
possible that "Thunder on the Lot" was used as a convenient way for 
some key players in the drug ring--including members of the Vagos 
motorcycle gang--to stay in touch.

Among the 23 arrested in Tuesday's sweep was Robert Fulbright, the 
alleged leader of the Vagos' Mojave chapter, investigators said.

Of all those arrested during the investigation, authorities said 233 
have criminal records and nearly 200 are on parole or 
probation--including one man on probation for attempted murder--and 
72 are members of white supremacist groups.

Lancaster Sheriff's Lt. Ron Shreve said investigators are also 
looking into whether "Thunder on the Lot" was used to launder drug 

"When we had our people at that event, we were able to document a 
list of who's who in the [meth-dealing] organization[s]," Shreve said.

Ron Emard, "Thunder on the Lot" organizer, rejected those claims 
Thursday. He said that although Vagos members probably showed up at 
the event, the fund-raiser hosted about 1,000 children this year and 
attracted a total attendance of 10,000. He said it is a family event, 
totally unconnected to money laundering or the drug trade.

Emard, a 40-year veteran biker who is also chairman of the Palmdale 
Chamber of Commerce, said: "We pretty much feel that we've shaken 
that stigmatism that the bikers are the problem. We don't feel that 
that's an issue anymore. But the people that we deal with up here in 
general, I don't even see [illegal activity] up here anymore. I'm 
seeing [the problems] go away, because there's so many good people 
who've gotten involved in it."

But Sheriff's Deputy Darren Hager, one of the main investigators in 
the bust, thinks the acceptance of the biker culture into the 
mainstream cuts the opposite way.

"I think back when, when everybody knew bikers were outlaws, 
[non-bikers] wanted to be the bad of the bad too," he said. "So now 
you have Harley enthusiasts who are the businessmen, the doctors and 
the lawyers, and the outlaw bikers are taking advantage of that. 
They'll say things like, 'Now we just help charities out.' But it's 
more of a front for them."

Steve Malicott, president of the Antelope Valley Chambers of 
Commerce, contends that the lure of drugs in the Antelope Valley is 
no different from society in general.

"It's becoming more and more difficult to see who the good guys and 
bad guys are," he said. "Unfortunately, illegal drug activities 
appear to be so profitable that they can lure normally law-abiding 
citizens into a trap. The greed impairs judgment. . . . When you do 
have what appear to be business leaders involved, that's a little 

The Antelope Valley is by no means the most active meth production 
and distribution center in the region, a distinction that falls to 
Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which the federal government 
has labeled the methamphetamine capital of the United States.

However, the high desert has always had its problems. "It's always 
been a stronghold for outlaw biker groups and their associates," said 
Mike Van Winkle, a spokesman for the California Department of 
Justice. "Over the years, where you have found outlaw bikers you have 
found methamphetamine. That's their drug of choice."

The area's meth problem exploded in the last decade, when a more 
potent, easier-to-produce meth made with the drug ephedrine became 
popular, according to DEA officials.

In part, because ephedrine is easier to procure in Mexico than in the 
United States, the major drug cartels in that country have come to 
dominate meth production and sales in rural areas such as the 
Antelope Valley.

Jose Martinez, a DEA spokesman, said Mexican cartels have expanded 
their global reach to countries such as Thailand and India, major 
ephedrine producers.

Investigators stressed that last week's arrests targeted the major 
players in the area's white drug ring. Shreve said that although 
Mexican drug dealers could step in to fill the new gap in supply, the 
local white methamphetamine trade has been dealt a serious blow.

"As far as the white trade here, I don't think that snake's gonna 
grow a tail real fast," Shreve said. "That particular organization is 
pretty well cooked, no pun intended."
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