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Meth busts send 58 to federal prison

Fifty-eight people are serving time in federal prison as a result of the concerted efforts of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement in surrounding counties to bust two methamphetamine manufacturing conspiracies.
“You hear about a war on drugs, but it’s a daily battle that we fight every day,” Sheriff Ed Graybeal said during a press conference last week.
Investigations began in Gray during 2009, and the last defendant was sentenced Jan. 30. A combined total of 348 years was ordered.
“Tennessee unfortunately leads the country in methamphetamine labs, and that is one statistic we don’t want to take a lead in,” District Attorney General Tony Clark said.
The success in taking almost 60 offenders off local streets is an example of what can be accomplished when investigators work together rather than fighting over jurisdictions, he added.
Prosecuting the charges in Federal Court is another deterrent. “In Federal Court, if you get 10 years, you serve 10 years, which is not always the case in State Court,” Clark said, estimating the 348 years would have only been 30-40 years served if sentenced by the state.
The total prosecuted in the two conspiracies include 34 “smurfs,” defined as those who go out and find the needed ingredients. The remaining 24 were the “cooks” who run the manufacturing operation. The ages of those involved range from 21 to 56.
Clark said rather than cash, a lot of the smurfs are being paid for their services with meth, which increases the number of addicts. Thefts, robberies and assaults often result from their efforts to secure the ingredients.
According to Graybeal, there is a 95-98 percent addiction rate from first-time use. “Get you a drink of that and see how long you stay on your feet; it’s nothing but poison,” he said.
The problem is also self-perpetuating, he noted. “Smurfs go out and get the stuff, then they all get together and teach each other how to cook it.”
In addition to destroying families, Clark said methamphetamine manufacturing sites are an environmental nightmare.
“The federal government has cut out almost all of the clean-up funds and left local agencies holding the bag,” he said.
Legislation may offer the greatest hope, and Clark said his office will support any efforts from the governor, which may include making pseudoephedrine, one of the key ingredients, a prescription drug.
Agencies involved with the WCSO in ending the two manufacturing conspiracies are the 1st Judicial Drug Task Force; the sheriff’s offices in Carter, Greene, Sullivan and Unicoi counties; the police departments in Elizabethton, Erwin, Johnson City and Kingsport; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Tennessee Highway Patrol; Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the U.S. Marshal Service.