Narcotics task force busts Clayton meth lab

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2003

VIDALIA, La.&045; They say good things come to those who wait.

After several months of undercover skulking, Concordia Narcotics Task Force agents shut down what Sheriff Randy Maxwell called &uot;the biggest crystal meth lab we’ve busted in years.&uot;

Right on the heels of &uot;Operation New Year,&uot; the task force’s roundup of 19 suspected drug dealers earlier this week, agent’s arrested Clayton resident Bill Smith for allegedly manufacturing methamphetamine in a trailer behind his home.

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Maxwell said agents had information on Smith’s alleged operation since the middle of last year but were unable to make an arrest.

&uot;We’ve been working on this for a long time,&uot; Maxwell said.

But after &uot;Operation New Year,&uot; Maxwell thinks, Smith might have thought that the coast was clear and let his guard down.

&uot;He was thinking everything’s over and he was safe,&uot; he said.

Smith’s temporary relaxation gave the task force the opportunity it was looking for, and at 7 p.m. Thursday, agents Michael Cowan, Chuck Hall, Junior Tarver, Dale Cowan and Mitch Price raided Smith’s suspected meth lab, netting an estimated $150,000 worth of illicit substances, along with some assorted loaded weapons.

As soon as the agents confirmed Smith was running a lab, Maxwell said, they sealed off the area and called in a team from the Drug Enforcement Agency office in New Orleans, which notified a Meridian-based cleanup crew.

Because of the preponderance of flammable and highly toxic chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, a lab can be incredibly dangerous and susceptible to explosion.

Maxwell said the suspected lab in Clayton appeared to be especially hazardous. &uot;It could have blown up half of Clayton,&uot; he said.

Maxwell recalled a meth lab bust he took part in 25 years ago in Grant Parish when he was with the State Police.

&uot;It just exploded,&uot; he said.

Aside from the danger presented by a meth lab, such operations are expensive to clean. Maxwell said the price tag for neutralizing the volatile environment of Smith’s workshop will come to at least $7,000.

Maxwell said Thursday night’s bust was rare. Because of the increasing ease with which methamphetamine can be produced, it has become harder and harder for law enforcement to find drug labs.

&uot;They labs now are so portable and disposable that it’s hard to catch them,&uot; he said, explaining that some methods of &uot;cooking&uot; the drug require nothing more than a microwave and a handful of products that can be found at any supermarket. &uot;You can get this stuff at Wal-Mart.&uot;

The particular variety of methamphetamine &045; &uot;red P meth&uot; &045; allegedly found in the Clayton trailer was made with red phosphorus, which is present in common road flares.

Maxwell said that with the volume of production at the lab, he suspected Smith was supplying drugs to several surrounding parishes and counties.

&uot;I’m glad to get this operation out of business,&uot; he said, adding a warning to other drug dealers and producers. &uot;You do dope in this parish, you better get out, because I’m going to get you.&uot;