Quiet farm jarred by meth charges

2 of 4 federal suspects ordered held until trial in Harford County case

July 21, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

The grandkids were showing off their prized Holstein cows at the Mason-Dixon Fair. The wife was out somewhere else, probably running errands.

So only Bud Amos was driving back to his Harford County homestead that morning as federal agents approached him on Glasgow Road.

Stop here, they told him.

"They said they were DEA," Amos, 74, said, recalling how he spent three hours waiting to get back on the dairy farm he has worked his entire life. "I didn't even know what DEA was. Guess I don't watch enough TV."

What he also didn't know was the danger that authorities say had been lurking on his property in a trailer less than 50 feet from his home - a makeshift and potentially volatile methamphetamine lab.

The drug bust a week ago today netted seven suspects in two states, including four who appeared in federal court in Baltimore on Tuesday on charges they conspired to produce and distribute mass quantities of the synthetic, highly addictive drug commonly known as meth.

A Pennsylvania man and a Harford County woman - Terry Lee McMillion, 44, and Mary Atti, 48 - were ordered by a judge to be held in custody until trial. Two others - Carol Ann Lee, 42, and Donald Lee Burchett Sr., 44 - were placed on supervised release to a halfway house and residential drug treatment. Burchett also is charged with operating a meth lab on Amos' farm at the end of Glasgow Road.

Harford County authorities also charged three people with methamphetamine manufacturing: Laura Motherwell, 39, and Ronald Dickerson, 34, of Street; and Joseph M. Semilia, 40, of Abderdeen.

Law enforcement officials have said that meth is increasing common in rural areas across the West and Midwest. But in Maryland, cooking up the drug at a homemade lab remains unusual. This year there were only two other labs discovered, one in Cecil County and another on the Eastern Shore, said Edward Marcinko, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration's Baltimore office.

In an interview in his backyard this week, Amos said he knows almost every acre of this lush valley.

He pointed out the towering white oak in the center, bounded by dense rows of cornstalks. On a clear day, he says, he can see the 190-foot rock outcrop known as the King and Queen Seat in Rocks State Park.

It was in this idyllic setting that, some years ago, Amos said he discovered a large patch of marijuana. A youth who lived nearby was to blame, he said.

But he never suspected that his tenants, a man who liked to repair old pickup trucks and the woman who helped milk his cows, might be involved in a much more dangerous drug trade feet away from where he slept.

The raid on his farm "took a certain amount of that stuff off the market," he said. "And that's good for everyone, including my grandkids."

Amos said he plans to allow Burchett's girlfriend, Motherwell, to continue to live in the trailer with their 5-year-old daughter.

"They came in and cleaned it all up," Amos said of the DEA-contracted cleanup team. "I'm not worried.

"We're going to try to help her out. She's a good employee."

Federal agents descended on Amos' farm as part of a series of coordinated raids to dismantle three suspected meth labs in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Experts say that this type of location - rural and remote - has become the preferred incubator for meth labs across the country.

According to law enforcement documents and court testimony, the joint local and federal investigation started earlier this year when two confidential informants fed information to a Harford County task force about suspected drug activity on Scarboro Road and the Amos farm on Glasgow Road in the Street area of the county.

McMillion was distributing large quantities of methamphetamine in Harford County, the informants told police, according to the charging documents filed in court. McMillion, according to the court papers, lived in Collinsville, Pa., and shared his knowledge with others, including Burchett.

Later, Harford County authorities heard similar information from the Pennsylvania State Police about the labs. Investigators trailed McMillion and searched a wooded area where he had been lingering, according to court documents.

There, they said, they found materials and supplies commonly used to make meth: acetone, pseudoephedrine tablets in a plastic bottle, rubber hoses, plastic bottles and an electronic PH tester.

As part of the same investigation, agents tracked two people who they said left Burchett's trailer last month for what appeared to be a drug-making shopping trip. At local grocery stores and pharmacies, they bought large quantities of special grade iodine and several packages of the generic form of the over-the-counter cold medication known as Sudafed, according to court papers.

During last week's raids, Pennsylvania State Police searched McMillion's home in Pennsylvania. They also searched the Glasgow Road address, where, they said, they found evidence of methamphetamine production.

DEA officials said those materials were removed from homes and sent to a federal laboratory for testing.

After McMillion's arrest Thursday, he told DEA agents that Burchett had asked him to assist in making methamphetamine, prosecutors said.

Others arrested told authorities that the operation involved cooking up meth and distributing it to rural locations across Harford County, according to court papers.

Burchett was arrested with meth in his possession, prosecutors said. His 5-year-old daughter was with him at the time, according to assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Romano.

The federal judge in Baltimore said Tuesday that the case should serve as a wake-up call in a state that has yet to see a large-scale influx of the "astonishingly destructive" drug.

For years, "we've been spared ... the ravages of this drug," Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm said. "We're spared no longer."

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