Updated: Gilroy meth seizure largest in U.S. history

A huge chunk of crystal meth is held by Detective Rogers with

Investigators are calling last week’s seizure of an estimated
$200 million in methamphetamine from a Gilroy home the country’s
biggest meth bust on record.
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Investigators are calling last week’s seizure of an estimated $200 million in methamphetamine from a Gilroy home the country’s biggest meth bust on record.

“We cannot find a larger seizure of methamphetamine anywhere in the history of the United States – anywhere,” said Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness at a press conference held Tuesday in Sacramento. “So this is big.”

So far, eight Mexican nationals have been arrested in connection with the bust.

Another suspect, whose name investigators would not release but was “running the show” from Sacramento, is still outstanding and believed to be in Mexico, Sacramento Sheriff’s Detective Sal Robles said.

“I’m sure he knows who he is,” Robles said. “It would be best for him to turn himself in before the cartel finds him.”

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department’s multi-agency drug task forces raided a rural, east Gilroy residence Aug. 19 and hit the jackpot : 650 pounds of methamphetamine worth an estimated $200 million.

Almost 500 pounds of methamphetamine, in various stages of production, spilled from kitchen cabinets, bathroom cupboards and bedroom closets. Large bins of crystal meth glittered like icicles on the floor of an unfurnished bedroom.

An additional 19 gallons of meth in solution, the equivalent of another 150 pounds, brought the grand total to just less than 650 pounds of methamphetamine, said Sacramento Sheriff’s Lt. Fred Links.

His team also recovered 15 pounds of cocaine, $35,000 in cash and two firearms.

Given its purity – about 98 percent – the Gilroy supply could be cut at least four times before being sold on the street, Links said. That translates to the equivalent of more than 2,500 pounds of dope on the street had the raid not occurred, Links said.

The men sent anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 to their bosses in Mexico on a daily basis, Links said. On one particularly lucrative day, their records show a shipment of $650,000 back to Mexico, he said.

Links and members of his team said they were astounded with what they found inside the house.

“I’ve never seen anything close,” said Robles, who has been working narcotics for a decade. “For us, a big case would be five, 10 pounds. Maybe 25. I’ve never seen that much drugs.”

The morning of the raid, investigators arrested three men at the 2250 Roop Road home, which sits about two miles east of the Gilroy outlets, who they believe are mid-level players in a large Mexican drug trafficking organization.

Fabian Figueroa Ayala, 28, Sergio Murillo Valencia, 35, and Hector Borraya Salazar, 43, were booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail, where they are awaiting transfer to Sacramento County on multiple felony charges, including possession of methamphetamine for sale and manufacturing of methamphetamine. Their charges carry the possibility of life in prison, Links said.

“They’re definitely not on the bottom rung because they were entrusted with the secrecy and possession of a huge cache of drugs,” said Bob Cooke, a former Gilroy police officer and special agent in charge with California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. “But a shot caller is going to keep himself away from the drugs. They were somewhere in the middle.”

Though authorities believe last week’s raid cut off one of the country’s primary methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution hubs, “another one will open up,” Robles said.

“This cartel will regroup,” Robles said. “We don’t know where though. We just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Five others were also arrested in Sacramento in connection with the drug ring – Oswald Roman, Hugo Soto-Cardenas and Marco Almeida-Soto back in June and Fausto Diaz and Martin Solorio on the same day as the Gilroy bust, Robles said.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department launched their investigation about a year ago after learning of a Mexican drug trafficking organization believed to be bringing sizable amounts of meth into the Central California area.

At the Gilroy home, the men were converting the drug from its powdered form into the popular street drug, crystal meth, investigators said.

“They weren’t actually making meth, they were crystallizing it,” said Tony Loya, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration special agent of almost 30 years who now heads up the National Methamphetamine and Pharmaceuticals Initiative. “They were taking the powdered meth and icing it up. That was the purpose of that lab.”

The methamphetamine found at the Gilroy house likely originated in Mexico, but because the drug in its powdered form is easier to transport, the cartel waited until they smuggled it across the border to convert it to the smokable, crystallized form, Loya explained.

“They don’t want to ice it up in Mexico because it takes a bigger container,” he said.

The majority of methamphetamine in the United States either comes in large quantities from Mexican drug trafficking organizations or is made on a smaller scale in domestic labs that typically produce enough for the user and their friends, Loya said.

A key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine is pseudoephedrine, a chemical commonly found in over the counter cold and allergy medicine.

“Without that, you cannot make meth,” Loya said.

But with a recent ban on the use and trade of pseudoephedrine in Mexico, drug cartels either have to smuggle the chemical into their country from overseas or resort to a more old-fashioned method used by biker gangs in the 1970s and 1980s that produces a less potent version of the drug, Loya said.

Back then, meth manufacturers used an organic compound called phenyl-2-propanone to cook up their supply, but the chemical yielded a variety of methamphetamine that packed only about half the punch of modern day meth, Loya said.

These days, “Mexican drug traffickers cannot get pseudoephedrine in the same quantities,” Loya said. “They do smuggle it in from India and China but they can’t get enough to meet the demand so what they’re doing is going back to the old biker method and using p-2-p.”

Loya said he would be curious to learn which type of meth investigators found last week. Forthcoming lab results should answer that question, he said. Because much of the crystal meth recovered at the Gilroy home was tinted blue, a trademark of “the good meth” made from pseudoephedrine, Loya believes a good portion of the stash was of the more potent variety.

“Either way, it’s a huge hit against the cartel,” he said.

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