7 people charged after meth labs are discovered

Authorities find 2 home-based facilities for making the drug in Harford County

July 16, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

Seven people faced charges yesterday of operating several suspected home-based methamphetamine labs, including two in Harford County, exposing what law enforcement experts describe as a rare occurrence in Maryland.

"As far back as we can tell, this is the first meth lab we've busted," said Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Department.

Terry Lee McMillion, 44, and his girlfriend, Carol Ann Lee, 42, both of Collinsville, Pa., and Donald Lee Burchett Sr., 44 and Mary Atti, 48, both of Street in Harford County, appeared in federal court yesterday on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute the drug known as "meth."

Also in Harford County, local authorities arrested Laura Motherwell, 39, of Street and charged her with methamphetamine manufacturing. She was held on $10,000 bond, authorities said.

Ronald Dickerson, 34, of Street and Joseph M. Semilia, 40, of Aberdeen face methamphetamine possession charges in state court and were released on their own recognizance yesterday.

Burchett and Motherwell list the same residence in the 400 block of Glasgow Road in Street as their address. A neighbor said last night that the address is for a trailer used by hired help on the adjacent dairy farm.

The use of methamphetamine, a major problem in rural areas of the West and Midwest, is overshadowed in Maryland by heroin and crack cocaine.

According a recent drug threat assessment issued by the White House, Mexican criminal groups are the predominant wholesale distributors of methamphetamine in the Northeast, and their presence in the region is increasing, "particularly in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia." Still, according to a report released in March from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, College Park, "Methamphetamine is rarely produced or used in Maryland."

Erin Artigiani, the center's deputy director for policy, said that the drug's presence in the state is not epidemic. Though the typical user in Maryland is a white, blue-collar man, she said, meth use in Maryland was also largely relegated to "subcultures," such as motorcycle gangs, truck drivers and the dance club scene.

For $40, a person can buy enough raw meth materials for a dozen highs in Western and Midwestern states, where the drug's availability is widespread and, experts say, is spreading east.

But in Maryland, meth is still hard to find and relatively expensive, said Thomas H. Carr, director of the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. He said he couldn't remember another meth lab that had been busted this year in the state.

One meth hit -- snorted, injected, smoked or swallowed -- can be made with as few as five cold pills containing 60 milligrams each of pseudoephedrine, which is found in the over-the-counter drug Sudafed, law enforcement officials said.

The rush has been reported as similar to but more intense than that of crack and lasts about four times longer, sometimes for 12 hours or more, according to medical professionals.

Court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore describe how federal drug enforcement agents believe the suspects manufactured methamphetamine in laboratories in two states.

The court documents charge Burchett and Atti with manufacturing the methamphetamine at their homes in Harford County.

Lee is charged with transporting the finished product from the Harford meth labs to McMillion for distribution.

All four federal defendants were arrested Thursday and remain in federal custody.

Each of them faces a possible maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison.

The investigation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and joined by the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Pennsylvania State Police, and the U.S. attorney for Maryland, appeared to have started last month.

It was unclear based on court papers whether law enforcement authorities seized any quantities of methamphetamine during their raids.

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