By Ed Brock
Standing before a judge three at a time, six of seven people arrested in large methamphetamine production bust each said they could not afford an attorney.
On Wednesday night agents with the Clayton County Drug Task Force arrested Richard Henline, 44, Melinda Stewart, 41, Debra Cleveland 37 and Steven Baxter, 44, at a house at 4306 Sierra Drive near Forest Park. Then they went across the street and arrested Terry Middleton, 39, Catherine Evans Warshan, 42 and Travis Foster, 29, Task Force Commander Spc. Agent Clarence Cox said.
They seized an unreleased quantity of the drug methamphetamine and perhaps some of the chemicals used to make it, although they are still waiting for lab tests to confirm the nature of the products that were seized.
It all started with a call that came earlier this week from someone complaining about high volumes of vehicle and pedestrian traffic near the house where Henline and the others with him were arrested.
"After we received an anonymous tip we started developing information," Cox said. "During the investigation process we noted that there was a connection between that residence and one across the street."
Investigators later discovered that a resident of the second house, 4299 Sierra Drive, taught a resident of 4306 how to "cook" the drug.
Methamphetamine is an addictive drug made by using several dangerous chemicals including anhydrous ammonia, often used as a commercial refrigerant, and cold medicines and other drugs that contain ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine.
"We're going to look at the new meth law that says it's illegal to possess the chemicals," Cox said, adding that additional charges would depend on the result of the pending lab tests.
Cox said agents found two complete labs, one at each house, and the makings of a third, mobile lab stored in a plastic container. According to information gathered in the investigation the labs produced three to five ounces of the drug per lab once a week.
Baxter, who was arrested on a probation violation, was the only one of the suspects who did not make a first appearance in Clayton County Magistrate Court Thursday afternoon.
Middleton, Warshan, Henline, Stewart and Cleveland were charged with distribution of a controlled substance. Cleveland was also charged with manufacturing the drug and Henline was charged with violating Georgia's Controlled Substance Act.
Foster was charged with violating the GCSA.
In reading the charges against the six, Judge Clara Bucci said that officers found a small amount of the drug under Foster's cap in a bedroom of the house where Foster was visiting. She said Cleveland, since she was Henline's live-in girlfriend, must have known the drug production was occurring in the house.
Bucci set a $5,000 bond for Foster but denied bond for the others. She set a date of Aug. 14 for a preliminary hearing.
The chemicals used to make the drug are highly volatile, Cox said, and a clean-up crew from the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency was called to assist at the scene.
Agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also assisted in the operation.
"It was the citizen's tip that got this started," Cox said.