BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | The federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it had arrested 10 individuals and shut down seven meth labs in the city and two on Long Island.
"A new animal has been unleashed in New York City," said John P. Gilbride, special agent-in-charge of the DEA's New York division, at a press conference. "Methamphetamine is being produced in small toxic labs throughout the five boroughs and Long Island."
The labs, allegedly run by defendants who operated independently, were busted over the past six months. The arrests and lab seizures were announced on November 30, which the Bush administration had declared as the first National Methamphetamine Awareness Day. Labs were seized in four of the city's five borough's-only Staten Island was not represented-and in Suffolk County.
The investigation was conducted by the DEA, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and the Suffolk County Police Department.
The DEA could not say if any of the men are gay. All 10 of the defendants had allegedly produced crystal only for their own use, though one defendant, Eric Wright of the Bronx, told the DEA that he hoped to sell the drug so he could send money to his brother who is incarcerated, according to court records.
"These are smaller meth labs," said Jack Fasanello, a senior forensic analyst at the DEA. "These are labs that are producing gram quantities of methamphetamine."
The lab operators came to the attention of law enforcement because they purchased precursor chemicals, such as red phosphorus and iodine crystals, from a Web site that operates out of a foreign country. The DEA would not identify that country.
"What does make the connection between these individuals and the labs is the fact that these individuals ordered their product, ordered their precursor chemicals, from the same supplier outside the United States," said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District. "They did it over the Internet."
The payments for those chemicals appear to have been processed domestically. The court records for one defendant reported that the chemical purchases in that case were discovered after police served a search warrant on PayPal, an Internet payment processor, seeking records held on a server in Arizona. Cour papers in a second case refer to "records obtained from a Web server" that was also located in Arizona.
A lab in a penthouse apartment on East 39th Street, allegedly operated by Michael Knibb, "was a one of the more sophisticated labs," Gilbride said. It was set up to vent fumes outside the apartment and could produce up to 50 grams of crystal at a time that was 98 percent pure.
"That gentleman was not only manufacturing methamphetamine, high quality methamphetamine," Fasanello said. "In addition to manufacturing methamphetamine, he was doing even more complex processes whereby he was manufacturing very high quality mescaline."
Some of the labs had been operating for "at least a year" before they were shut down, Gilbride said. While meth labs have been found in the New York in the past, such discoveries have been rare. Gilbride said the DEA had no information about other labs in the city.
"I wouldn't try to guess how many labs could be out there," he said. "I don't know if there are any other additional labs out there or how many could be out there. It's a process of identifying through investigative work who is ordering the chemicals that may be used to make methamphetamine, then using traditional law enforcement methods to determine if there is a lab there."
The DEA visited the homes of some of the defendants after they purchased as much as 100 grams of red phosphorus or 50 grams of iodine crystals, according to court records. The defendants let the DEA agents search their homes during those visits and the labs were found.
Dan Carlson, a co-founder of the HIV Forum, a group that produced a series of town meetings on gay men, sex, and drugs, said that revelations of the labs should spur more gay community anti-meth efforts.
"Although these labs seems isolated, it indicates to me that crystal meth is not going away anytime soon in New York City and that as the DEA continues their work, we in the community need to do what we can to decrease the need or demand for this drug," Carlson said in a statement. "It says to me that our work in partnership with city government is not over and that our community needs to unite to eliminate this mean drug from our neighborhoods."
Also charged in the busts were Christopher Beltzer and Nicholaos Georgopoulos, both of Queens, Allen Jasovsky from Englishtown, New Jersey, Mehmetcan Dosemeci of Manhattan, Arkady Koroshikh of Brooklyn, Christopher Bigoness of Ridge, New York, and Steven Satornino and Adam Mills, both of Patchogue.