FOREST PARK — Evidence from a massive 1,300-pound methamphetamine raid in Forest Park served as the visual aid for a press conference the federal Drug Enforcement Administration called Thursday to announce “Operation Crystal Shield,” targeting drug traffickers in Clayton and other metro Atlanta counties.

The Forest Park raid on 996 Cone Road took place Feb. 15, according to DEA Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Murphy, who said the haul was extraordinarily large.

“I’ve been in this business a long time. This is a huge seizure domestically in the entire United States that we do not see at one time in one location,” Murphy said, emphasizing, “This is a staggering amount of methamphetamine.”

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Agents found a meth lab and supplies at the house, in addition to the two-thirds of a ton of already-cooked meth. The DEA blamed Mexican drug cartels and is targeting these cities in the coming months:

♦ Atlanta;

♦ New Orleans;

♦ Dallas;

♦ El Paso;

♦ Houston;

♦ Los Angeles;

♦ Phoenix;

♦ St. Louis; and

According to the DEA, these jurisdictions “accounted for more than 75 percent of methamphetamine seized in the U.S. in 2019.” By 2019, the DEA had seized more than double the amount of meth it had in 2017—up from 49,507 pounds (24.75 tons) to 112,146 pounds (56 tons).

Murphy said the Atlanta Field Division, which covers Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, has “seen a significant increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized, up 24 percent in the last year. Because Atlanta is a transportation hub, the DEA AFD is committed to using all its resources to attack this problem.”

Atlanta is attractive to drug syndicates because it serves as a transportation nexus between the Southeast and East Coast. Forest Park is a logistical crossroads, given its many warehouses, trucking operations, rail and proximity to several interstates. In addition, many shipping containers travel between the Port of Savannah and metro Atlanta. However, the DEA says most of the meth coming from Mexican traffickers comes up through the Southwest via personal vehicles and tractor-trailers, which also often contain other drugs like heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.

Morrow Police Chief James Callaway, who is president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, told the News, “Gangs and drug cartels, (which are) also gangs, are the foremost pushers of this poison into our communities. Atlanta is the hub for this activity for the entire eastern seaboard.”

According to the DEA, Mexican meth has been a growing problem in the Southeast since the mid-1990s, bringing with it increased violence. Most of the meth consumed in the U.S. is manufactured in Mexico and shipped across the southwest border.

However, the DEA points out, meth is also cooked up locally: “Clandestine laboratories can be set up anywhere: in private residences, motel and hotel rooms, apartments, house trailers, mobile homes, campgrounds, and commercial establishments. The majority of incidents reported to NSS were seizures of clandestine labs (69%), while others were discoveries of dumpsites (23%), or seizures of equipment or chemicals only (8%).”

In metro Atlanta, meth has grown steadily more widespread since 2016. The ways in which it is transported are particularly pernicious.

Meth can be shipped either in liquid form to be cooked down later or as the finished solid product ready for sales on the street. The DEA has found liquid meth inside aloe vera juice bottles that had been cased and wrapped to look like a normal product. It has seized meth packaged to look like car parts--for example, the inside of a wheel--or mixed into jars of soap or shipped inside vehicle fuel tanks. The DEA also targets large shipments of “precursor” chemicals used to make methamphetamine.

Mexican drug cartels, as well as white supremacist gangs and some bootleggers, are primarily responsible for meth manufacturing in the U.S., according to the DEA: “Mexican TCOs control wholesale methamphetamine distribution, while both Mexican and Caucasian criminal groups typically control retail distribution in the United States.”

In 2019, the Georgia Department of Corrections reported 4,548 inmates, from juveniles to 70-year-olds, 78 percent of them white males, had been incarcerated for meth-related offenses. 66 were from Clayton County alone.

The DEA says meth brings with it a particularly high level of violence. In addition, homes and apartments where people have either cooked or smoked methamphetamine are dangerously contaminated. The DEA has not mapped meth houses in metro Atlanta in many years and the state of Georgia has no laws requiring property owners, government agencies or the real estate industry to report or remove that contamination.

If you suspect a meth lab or trafficking operation near you, you can contact your local police department or submit an online tip to the Drug Enforcement Association Atlanta Field Office at https://www.dea.gov/submit-tip. You can remain anonymous.

Crime and Safety Reporter

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