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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release
August 1, 2000


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Federal agents have arrested more than 140 individuals in eight cities and took enforcement actions in at least 35 others in connection with a nationwide investigation targeting illegal trafficking of pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical used to manufacture the illegal drug, methamphetamine.

The investigation, known as Operation Mountain Express, was coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration's Office of Diversion Control and a joint law enforcement program called the Special Operations Division, comprised of attorneys from the Department of Justice's Criminal Division and agents and analysts from DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Customs Service, and Internal Revenue Service.

Federal agents, with assistance from numerous state and local police agencies, carried out the arrests in Los Angeles, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Diego, Portland, Houston, and Lodi, California.

The individuals arrested face federal charges for their involvement in a loosely structured national network that trafficked in pseudoephedrine. According to court documents, all of the individuals arrested are alleged to have been directly involved in the unlawful diversion of pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine production organizations, headquartered in Mexico and operating in California and elsewhere.

During the course of Operation Mountain Express, investigators learned that wholesalers in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, and New York were shipping multi-ton quantities of pseudoephedrine tablets that ended up in California, where black market pricing produced as much as $3,000 profit per pound.

Over the past ten years, pseudoephedrine has become widely used in the production of meth because of its ready availability in over-the-counter cold and allergy products. Traffickers in California, which has historically been a center of meth manufacturing and trafficking, began purchasing supplies nationwide when law enforcement attention and strong state precursor control laws made it increasingly difficult for the them to obtain sufficient quantities of pseudoephedrine from local sources.

In addition to today's arrests, DEA Special Agents and Diversion Investigators served administrative orders to revoke the registrant status of 20 other major pseudoephedrine distributors, and executed administrative inspection warrants and notices of inspection to examine the records of numerous additional pseudoephedrine distributors.

"The operation should have a significant impact on methamphetamine trafficking in the U.S. by limiting the availability of pseudoephedrine and deterring other registrants who might be considering the illicit diversion of chemicals and pharmaceuticals," said Attorney General Janet Reno.

"Despite new federal controls instituted in 1997, some unscrupulous DEA registrants have managed to divert huge quantities of tableted pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine laboratories and, ultimately, onto the streets of our cities," said DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall. "Operation Mountain Express is the first step in our effort to put an end to this diversion."

To date, Operation Mountain Express has resulted in the seizure of $8 million, 10 metric tons of pseudoephedrine tablets (capable of producing approximately 18,000 pounds of methamphetamine), 83 pounds of finished methamphetamine, two pseudoephedrine extraction laboratories, one methamphetamine laboratory, and 136 pounds of chemical solvents and reagents.

Federal indictments have been returned in connection with Operation Mountain Express in U.S. District Courts with the cooperation of U.S. Attorney's offices in the Central District of California (Los Angeles); the Southern District of Florida (Ft. Lauderdale); the Middle District of Florida (Orlando); the District of Colorado; District of Oregon; and the District of Nevada. In addition, a civil complaint has been filed in the Eastern District of California (Sacramento).

The investigation is continuing and it is anticipated that additional pseudoephedrine wholesalers may face criminal, civil, or administrative action.

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