Pubdate: Fri, 16 Aug 2002
Source: North County Times (CA)
Contact:  2002 North County Times
Author: Jo Moreland
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


A Pala home laboratory that allegedly produced iodine crystals that can be
used to make methamphetamine appears to be the first of its kind in
California, authorities said this week. 

Federal and state drug agents raided the lab the night of July 24 behind
Bates Feed on private property within the Pala Indian Reservation. They
arrested the husband and wife who own the feed store. 

Undersheriff Jack Drown, co-chairman of the San Diego County Methamphetamine
Strike Force, said the discovery "is of great concern" at a time when
officials thought they had been making some progress in getting rid of

"This is one of those red flags that is raised over what is happening in San
Diego County," Drown said. 

Narcotics investigators became aware a couple of years ago that tack and
feed stores were becoming an iodine source for meth-makers, Assistant U.S.
Attorney Laura Birkmeyer said Thursday. However, she said, usually the
iodine crystals were obtained somewhere else for sale at the stores. 

"The unusual thing about this case was that they started crystallizing
iodine to sell it at their business," Birkmeyer said. "It's the first iodine
recrystallization lab in California that I'm aware of." 

Iodine crystals can be mixed with water to make hydroiodic acid, which is a
key ingredient to make meth, officials said. Meth-makers have had difficulty
getting hydroiodic acid under stricter controls put into effect in 1993 in

Authorities said Thursday that they still aren't sure what the Pala lab
signals, if anything, as far as meth-making trends in the San Diego region. 

Last year, more than 40 meth labs and dumpsites were found throughout the
county, once known as the "methamphetamine capital of the world," officials

The Methamphetamine Strike Force reported that last year four meth labs were
found in both Escondido and Valley Center; two in Vista and one each in
Pauma Valley and Encinitas. 

Meth-making cleanup sites were found in 2001 in Oceanside, Carlsbad,
Fallbrook, Escondido and Valley Center, according to the strike force. 

"The good news is that our lab seizures are down significantly," said
Special Agent Donald Thornhill, Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in
San Diego, noting that the meth labs are also smaller. 

A Methamphetamine Strike Force employee said two meth labs have been found
this year, one in Escondido and one in Valley Center in North County. 

Birkmeyer and investigators said that iodine crystals have a limited use to
make liniment for horses' hooves, but that there is no need for large
amounts of crystals. The defendants are arguing that they were using the
iodine for legitimate business purposes, Thornhill said. 

The Pala suspects ---- Wesley Francis Bates, 47, and his wife, Sandra
Corinne Bates, 43 ---- are accused in U.S. District Court of selling 10
ounces to 2 pounds of iodine crystals 13 times during the last two years,
according to a federal indictment. 

They are charged with conspiracy to distribute and distribution of a
restricted chemical with reasonable cause to believe it would be used to
make a controlled substance. The penalty for each count is up to 10 years in
prison and a $250,000 fine. 

"We've also filed a criminal forfeiture count against the property (for
seizure of it)," Birkmeyer said.

The defendants were still in federal custody Thursday with bond set at
$100,000 each. Their attorneys couldn't be reached Thursday for comment. 

The Bates' 11-year-old son was referred to Child Protective Services the
night of the raid as a county hazardous materials team cleaned up the lab
behind the Pala Temecula Road business, authorities said. 

"Iodine in general is toxic," said Mike Handman, supervisory environmental
health specialist for the county's Department of Environmental Health. "It's
tough to remove from the skin. If you get a lot of it, theoretically it
could kill you." 

Iodine dumped on the ground that gets into wells or septic systems is a
concern, but it wasn't a problem at the Pala lab, Handman said. 

Robert Smith, tribal chairman, said the discovery of the lab has caused
concern at the reservation, as does any alleged illegal activity. But the
tribe is limited in what it can do on private property, Smith said. 

The county has declined jurisdiction in past cases involving sewage problems
and other issues, he said, but the tribe will bring the matter up with
county code enforcement and other county agencies. 

"We're looking at legal remedies about what we can do within our
boundaries," said Smith.
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