HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Crank, The 'Rural Crack,' Hits The Heartland -- Hard
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Fax: (414) 224-8280
Copyright: 1998, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Pubdate: 08 Nov 1998
Author: Jessica McBride of the Journal Sentinel staff


Behind the pastoral quiet of Wisconsin farming communities, a monster
that's become the drug of choice is swallowing its users

New Richmond -- It is a picture of rural Wisconsin innocence: Tanna
Lyons, 14, posing in her New Richmond Tigers uniform, a volleyball on
her knee.

Her smile wholesome, her future seemingly bright, she looks far
removed from danger.

But within two years, she was a high school dropout and "banger,"
shooting a wicked form of methamphetamine known as crank into her
veins. Labeled the "rural crack" because of its popularity with
small-town, working-class white people, crank is bringing urban drug
scenes to postcard farming communities.

Wisconsin authorities, alarmed by the jump this year in seven
counties, most bordering Minnesota, say crank use is near epidemic in
northwest Wisconsin and spreading south and east. Chippewa, Dunn, Eau
Claire, Pierce, Polk, St. Croix and Dane counties are reporting
increased problems.

The "poor man's cocaine," controlled by Mexican drug cartels and once
confined to California and the Southwest, has marched eastward,
decimating people in states such as Montana and Wyoming, and is now
considered the "Midwest drug of choice," according to the Wisconsin
attorney general's office. It has forged into Wisconsin from border
counties of Minnesota, which along with Iowa and Missouri is wrestling
with the worst "methidemic" in the heartland.

"For these small counties, where there is not a lot of cocaine, it's
the most significant problem," Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle
said. "The front line of the battle is in northwest Wisconsin."

Crank, a stimulant affecting the central nervous system, can be almost
instantly addictive. Its parent drug, amphetamine, was developed as a
nasal decongestant and bronchial inhaler. Methamphetamine is smoked,
injected, ingested or inhaled. The drug also is called "chalk" and

Crank sells for about $15 a hit and can cause anger, panic, paranoia
and hallucinations. Users often dig at their skin, trying to get at
"crank bugs" -- imaginary insects they think are crawling just under
the surface of their gaunt bodies. Jeff Lehto, 31, who lives in a
trailer in the St. Croix County countryside, said his girlfriend
pulled out all her hair just to get at the "bugs."

A crank high lasts about eight to 24 hours or so, compared with about
20 minutes for crack cocaine. And unlike plant-derived cocaine, crank
can be made in dangerously explosive homemade labs, with ingredients
purchased at local stores. Eight labs were found in Wisconsin in the
last six weeks alone. They are relatively unsophisticated, employing
fruit jars and cake pans, and cleanup can be dangerous and expensive
for law enforcement officials.

"These are Beavis and Butt-head labs, and more often than not, Beavis
and Butt-head are in there making it," said Tim Schultz, a state
narcotics agent.

Several Barron County men were arrested this summer in Rice Lake,
burglarizing a business to find farm fertilizer, the only ingredient
they were missing for a crank recipe called the Nazi Method, Schultz
said. Equipment and ingredients to make crank was found burning in a
garbage bin outside a restaurant in Dunn County. And two Madison
college students with chemistry degrees were sentenced this summer for
making a lab with directions found on the Internet.

To get an idea of crank's typical ingredients, imagine everything you
would not want to put in your body. It's a witch's brew that includes

cat tranquilizer, car starter fluid, drain cleaner, paint remover and
red phosphorus -- commonly found on the strike pads of matchbooks. An
investment of a few hundred dollars in over-the-counter medications
and chemicals can produce thousands of dollars' worth of

About a year after Tanna's volleyball photo was snapped, she began
shooting crank, her family says. Her teeth rotted. Her body was
covered with sores from trying to get at the crank bugs. In July, she
died in an automobile crash; the Clear Lake teenager behind the wheel
of the car she was riding in had alcohol in his system, authorities

"The younger kids are starting to use it," said Andre Lyons, 18,
Tanna's brother, sitting in his family's rural New Richmond home.

A gangly teenager with frosted blond hair and green painted toenails,
Lyons admits having been a user, too. Tanna, he said, "was using it
really bad."

"It (crank) is like candy in a candy store around here," said Vickie
Lyons, the mother of Tanna and Andre.

She tried it herself around a local bonfire.

Bob Weiner, spokesman for national drug czar Barry McCaffrey, said the
government has taken many steps to halt an "explosion" of
methamphetamine. This year, Congress increased federal penalties for
trafficking methamphetamine to equal those for crack. The federal
government also provided $24.5 million for more special agents to work
on the problem.

"It could be the crack cocaine of the next century if we don't take
steps now to stop it," Weiner said.

Doyle says seizures of clandestine labs in the Midwest rose from 44 in
1995 to more than 500 in 1997. Methamphetamine cases submitted to the
State Crime Laboratory are expected to hit 125 this year, up from 77
in 1997.

The hot spot for now is St. Croix County, next to Minnesota. Milwaukee
and Chicago -- which were some of the last cities in the country to
get crack cocaine -- have seen little of the drug so far, partly
because established local street gangs that don't deal in crank guard
their drug territories. In contrast, places such as St. Croix County
- -- part Minnesota bedroom community, part rural farm country -- are
wide open.

"We have a huge amount of methamphetamine here," said Eric Johnson,
St. Croix County district attorney. "I'd say we're one step short of
an epidemic."

U.S. Attorney Peggy Lautenschlager said methamphetamine has been in
Wisconsin for years, but in the less prevalent and milder version
known as speed. That was the domain of motorcycle gangs, and never
caught fire outside their circles. Crank -- speed "cranked up" -- is

"This (crank) is far more broad-based," she said. "It's something
everyday members of the community are using."

Lautenschlager said authorities are worried about violence associated
with the drug, which increases the hormone dopamine, triggering
aggression. A form of methamphetamine was used by kamikaze pilots
during World War II to increase their sense of invincibility. And
prosecutors said Timothy McVeigh used it before the Oklahoma City
federal building bombing.

Lautenschlager said some Wisconsin counties are seeing increases in
reports of domestic violence.

Just last month, a Dunn County couple reported that their 14-year-old
son had threatened to kill them after using methamphetamine.

"We are very concerned because this is a drug that creates monsters,"
Dunn County District Attorney Jim Peterson said.

In some cases, though, appearances are deceiving.

With her long blond hair and freshly scrubbed face, Brandy Schmit, 19,
looks as if she should be worrying about class rings or college
applications. Instead, she was sobbing in a Hudson courtroom last
month as she received seven months in jail for crank delivery.

"She looks like the homecoming queen and she could have been the
homecoming queen," said Lauri Gaylord, her attorney.

Instead, Schmit earned the title "Light Bulb Queen" around her New
Richmond circles because she used bulbs to smoke crank.

"Crank is everywhere," she said earlier this month in her mother's

Hudson home. "It's in Baldwin, it's in Menomonie, it's been in Eau
Claire a long time."

Crank makes robots. Users don't sleep or eat -- sometimes for days;
sometimes for weeks. Schmit's record was 16 days. With no sleep.
Schultz said he has heard of one person staying up 52 days.

"It's easy to stay awake that long," Schmit said. "You just do it more
and more and more and more and do it until you can't do it anymore."

Her joints cracked when she walked. She had "crank

"Your body just itches," Schmit said. "The crank comes out of your
pores. How would you like Clorox bleach and rat poison coming out of
your pores?"

Chronic users lose weight, lose their teeth, lose their

"I saw dragons, people standing on roofs wearing night-vision
goggles," Schmit said.

Both Schmit and Tanna were part of a New Richmond circle of users --
generally kids from broken, dysfunctional families -- that revolved
around 19-year-old Nick Brabec, one of Wisconsin's most prolific crank
dealers. All it takes, authorities said, is a dynamic figure like
Brabec for a problem to take off in a town.

Brabec now is seen mostly on a videotape. He was sent to federal
prison in September and agreed to make an informational tape that is
used to educate law enforcement officials about the perils of crank.
In the video, his face retains the scarecrow look of a user. His blond
hair is shaved into a crew cut, his thin body encased in prison red.

"This (New Richmond) was just a small-town farming community," he says
on the tape. "But it (crank) is in the schools; anyone who will get
ahold of a needle will bang it. I've seen 12-year-olds use it and I've
seen 45- to 50-year-olds use it, and all in between."

He tells the law enforcement audience: "It's too late. The truth
hurts, but you missed the boat . . . You missed coke in the '70s and
you missed meth in the '80s and '90s."

Authorities are trying to prove him wrong.

Last February, a special joint methamphetamine initiative by local,
federal and state law enforcement officials was launched in Wisconsin,
Doyle said. Many offenders have been arrested. Doyle also sponsored a
first-of-its-kind methamphetamine summit in Menomonie last month to
increase public education for law enforcement, educators, paramedics
and so forth.

"The potential for an epidemic is really there," Doyle said. "But in
Wisconsin, we are able to recognize the national trends and are
working very hard to stop the drug."

Schultz said he believes it's already an epidemic. These are towns,
after all, where the only substances previously having significant
impact were marijuana and alcohol.

Although the number of homemade labs is growing, tracking the crank
trail through northwestern Wisconsin still leads back to dealers in
Minnesota and, beyond that, deep into Mexico.

Tim McCormick, the resident agent in charge of the Minneapolis-St.
Paul office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration -- which
includes seven northwestern Wisconsin counties -- has firsthand
knowledge of that trail. He said five of the six largest federal crank
investigations under his jurisdiction led authorities to criminal
organizations outside Mexico City.

Twenty Mexican methamphetamine organizations have been identified by
the DEA as being involved in the Midwest. Of 205 narcotics cases
McCormick's office worked in 1997, 62 involved methamphetamine that
originated in Mexico. In 1998, the figure jumped to 106 out of 256

"Methamphetamine this year became the No. 1 drug we're seizing, and
violators we're arresting," McCormick said.

In all of 1997, agents seized 58.4 pounds of methamphetamine; as of
Sept. 1 this year, 89.3 pounds had already been seized -- outpacing
cocaine for the first time.

McCormick said the Mexican cartels prefer methamphetamine because they
have easy access to the necessary ingredients and don't have to deal
with South American cartels producing plant-derived drugs such as
cocaine. Many high-level Minnesota crank dealers are illegal Mexican

immigrants who tend not to be users, he said.

"It's just going down the line into northwest Wisconsin, where there
is a large user problem," McCormick said.

Russ Cragin, a Dunn County sheriff's investigator, spread a diagram on
his desk to illustrate the point. Donald V. Cashman and Scott Fedderly
- -- both dealers now in federal prison -- were featured in the middle.
The names of two dozen users, mostly rural Dunn County working-class
adults, were spread out from their names like a family tree.

Cashman was a St. Paul house painter getting the drug from dealers
within the Mexican community there, Cragin said. He sold
methamphetamine to Fedderly, an unemployed man nicknamed "Gilligan,"
who lived in a stolen camper in rural Dunn County.

Authorities learned the men and others were stealing property -- John
Deere tractors and such -- along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to
exchange for crank, Cragin said.

Police confiscated a Tupperware bowl full of methamphetamine from
Fedderly's camper and a book called "How to Manufacture
Methamphetamine" inside his Isuzu Trooper. A sting was conducted on
Cashman's St. Paul home, using a Chippewa Falls boy as an informant.

Saying that he "would be killed," Cashman refused to name his Mexican

"People shouldn't panic," Cragin said. "But they should be prepared.
It (crank) is coming, and it's here."

In one of Wisconsin's most infamous crank cases, Deborah Cochran, a
mother of four from River Falls, was sent to federal prison in August
for dealing crank. Authorities said she allowed her 16-year-old
daughter, a student at the high school, to snort it.

Todd Schultz, school psychologist, said about two dozen students
ultimately became users.

"It was difficult to watch all the kids burning and crashing," Schultz
said. "A lot of kids used to go there (Cochran's house) at lunch hour
and before and after school. Some students are still trying to
recover. There were school dropouts, class failures, some

Despite those kinds of horror stories, law enforcement attention seems
to be making a difference in some circles.

In Tanna's hometown of New Richmond on a recent Friday evening, the
souped-up cars packed with teenagers hummed in Big Boy Gyros parking
lot. It wasn't hard to find former crank users; it was harder to find
someone who admitted still using the drug.

An 18-year-old girl who described herself as a "preppy" volunteered
that she was in treatment for crank and a follower of Nick Brabec, as
Tanna had been. A year before, she said, half the people at any party
would have been using crank.

But she said things changed in town since Brabec's

The crowd that night was heading off to party in cornfields -- with a
keg of beer. 

- ---
Checked-by: Rich O'Grady