Methamphetamine investigations can take time to gather evidence, as was the case for a five-monthlong undercover investigation and massive raid that shut down a major supply of methamphetamine coming into the Pottawatomie County area this summer.
The undercover sting began in February and ended with 45 persons arrested, including several highpro file dealers and targets at different levels of the operation.
Law enforcement officers confiscated several pounds of meth, and more than $112,000 in cash also was seized. Firearms and vehicles also were confiscated.
More than 125 state and local law enforcement officers gathered in Shawnee on the morning of June 27 and set out a massive raid with arrest and search warrants in hand.
The simultaneous operation took months of investigation, preparation and planning after authorities tracked numerous suspects as large quantities of meth was brought into the area for distribution.
Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon called the investigation and raid an "unbelievable, great cooperative effort."
Patrick Vance, who is the supervisor of Smothermon's Drugs and Violent Crimes Task Force, said the casework started in February and included wiretaps on phone lines, which he said also required physical surveillance while listening.
Surveillance teams worked 24 hours a day for 31 days in the later stages of the operation, with a total six officers from the task force, Pottawatomie County Sheriff's Office and Shawnee Police Department rotating duties.
During physical surveillance, Vance said they couldn't use the same vehicle over and over without raising suspicion, so they worked out a deal for rental cars.
"We had difficulties running so much surveillance and had to rent cars," Smothermon said.
The command post during the 31-day surveillance watch was a 26-foot travel trailer parked behind a local church, he said. Quarters were tight, but crews managed.
"There were a lot of sacrifices made by a lot of people," Vance said, adding the level of the cooperation between local agencies was the best he's ever seen.
Over the course of the month to gather wire tap evidence, they watched and tracked the players involved as they bought a total of 26 pounds of uncut methamphetamine and brought it back to Shawnee, Vance said.
The meth brought to the Shawnee area from Oklahoma City was about 98 percent pure, but was later cut with a vitamin mixture likely bought in 15-gallon buckets, Vance said.
Page 2 of 3 - With the drug cut twice, he said there were "60 pounds of ice" being sold on Shawnee streets on a given month. Thousands of dollars were being exchanged in the different levels of dealing.
And while many believe drug dealers have lavish lifestyles with fancy homes and cars, Vance said that usually isn't the case for "dope runners" and it especially wasn't for those involved in this bust.
Many of the suspects lived in old trailers, he said, yet some, when arrested, had thousands of dollars in their vehicles.
"They weren't living large at all," he said.
Vance said those arrested were also users, adding every bit of the meth in this case was being brought here from Mexico.
While Vance said it was nothing in the past for local agents to take down several meth labs a week, the numbers have dwindled to about one a month as most of the methamphetamine on the streets now is being brought in from Mexico.
"People still cook meth here but not as much as they used to," he said.
"They can move it up here cheaper than we can produce it." Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz, who said these investigations do take time and manpower, said his department was able to provide several officers to help with the surveillance.
"We were fully dedicated to it," he said.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs also was involved, along with many assisting agencies that provided manpower on the day of the raid.
Darrell Weaver, director of OBN, said this case "dismantled a major, major source of methamphetamine," and also made a profound impact on the drug trade.
"This is a significant dismantling of a major ring of violators who have made economic gain by peddling their hideous drugs," Weaver said. "These major cases can only be made by cooperative efforts and partnerships."
The investigation began with tips and traffic stops, which were followed by further investigation and around-the-clock surveillance.
On the day of the raid, arrests occurred without incident as teams of 10 officers each went to each location to ensure both manpower and safety. As part of the briefing, authorities used a large flow-chart type board and mug photos to help them identify their targets for each location.
As they set out, many residents reported seeing police officers and agents raid homes and place suspects on the ground as they made arrests.
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"It went as smooth as an operation like this could possibly go, which is a testament to the planning and execution by officers," Smothermon said.
Smothermon, who said a pound of meth would normally net about 900 doses of the drug, said the drugs in this case were uncut and therefore one pound becomes three, meaning each pound of meth had about 2,700 doses.
As a result of the raids, the suspects arrested were charged with numerous counts in Pottawatomie County District Court and each case is at a difference stage of the court process.