Operation Meth Merchant

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In Georgia, it's illegal to sell cold medicine to a customer who publicly declares that he is going to use it to make methamphetamine. So undercover cops are going to store to store, buying up Sudafed and hinting that they're heading back to the trailer to cook up America's Most Dangerous Drug. They've nabbed 49 convenience store clerks this way. Problem is, not everyone who sells Sudafed is as down with the meth lingo as Georgia's ultra-hip police force. The New York Times reports:

Forty-four of the defendants are Indian immigrants—32, mostly unrelated, are named Patel—and many spoke little more than the kind of transactional English mocked in sitcoms.

So when a government informant told store clerks that he needed the cold medicine, matches and camping fuel to "finish up a cook," some of them said they figured he must have meant something about barbecue.

The New York Times report is delicately titled "Cultural Differences Complicate a Georgia Drug Sting Operation" as if the story were more about silly cross-cultural foibles than insane law enforcement. Nowhere does the piece question whether anyone who was actually going to make meth would loudly proclaim the fact at the cash register.

In related news, popping Sudafed and Claritin D in Oregon will soon require a prescription.

NEXT: Another Fine Meth

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  1. I predict this will end with 40 cops spending a Saturday in a hot classroom learning about Ganeesh.

  2. How come you never see this on “Cops”?

  3. Why do cops hate America India?

  4. Question 1: Is there a cold medicine industry group? I’d think they’d be pretty pissed at the fact that their decongestants are being scheduled as drugs.

    Question 2: Will this lead to black market cold & coug meds? 24 hour gas stations with a “back room stash” of sudafed?

  5. I forget that the strikethrough tag doesn’t work here….

  6. “finish up a cook”? I was born and raised in the supposedly meth-crazy midwest and I’d have no idea what this guy is talking about. These people are flat out of control. I hope the jury has the same reaction, or better yet, that a sane judge doesn’t let things go that far.

  7. Because the producers of Cops know that if they start showing the Cops being incompetent, they’ll get cut off by the police. I swear though, I’ve thought about breaking into their footage locker. The bloopers! Oh, the bloopers they must have in the safe!

  8. I’ve known several cops and they all seemed like normal people. I’m wondering – do these cops, or the buffoons who took down little Maribel of the Impossibly Heavy Rock, have any idea how ridiculous they look? Have they no concept of how others might seem them? It just seems bizarre to me. Maybe law enforcement people live in the same kind of echo bubble that politicians and actors do, and there’s simply no one around to say “You know, this looks kind of stupid.”

    A couple years ago, a “task force” of Houston cops were out to catch a group of street racers – ok, that’s fair, street racing has killed several people who weren’t even racing – so the cops show up at a spot suppposedly popular with street racers, around 10:00 at night. It happened to be a parking lot of a strip mall (KMart, a burger joint, etc.) on a very busy street in a very normal, non-dangerous part of town. There was no street racing going on, there were no races or racers to be found. But, hey, the cops had come all this way, and gone to all this trouble, so….they arrested – cuffed and took downtown – absolutely everyone who happened to be in that parking lot, including parents and kids leaving Kmart, old folks eating at the burger joint, everyone. The cop in charge of the “operation” eventually lost his job, the judge threw out all citations, and the city is now facing several hefty law suits which it has tried, and failed, to get dismissed. And the cops seem stunned – just stunned – at what a debacle the whole thing was.

  9. Toxic,

    “Because the producers of Cops know that if they start showing the Cops being incompetent, they’ll get cut off by the police.”

    This is a pet peeve of mine – not just that they don’t show the cops screwing up, but that they don’t ever show them doing anything except succeeding brilliantly.

    I’d like the cops more if they showed them failing once in a while. The crackhead manages to jump a few fences and escape, and the cop who gave it the old college try is show, muddy and breathing, looking disappointed but determined, getting back on the horse and commenting that you can’t win ’em all.

    There is a seriously fascist, uberman aesthetic to that show, and it does a disservice to all the cops who know how hard and frustrating their job really is.

    end rant

  10. Stubby-

    I remember reading about a similar situation (though I can’t remember where it was)–the cops wanted to clean up prostitution, so they went to a street where a lot of hookers plied their wares and simply arrested every single woman they saw. And of course it turned out that most of the women were NOT prostitutes at all.

    In your story, though, I’m very surprised that the cops lost their jobs.

  11. BT,

    Some police officers operate under the premise that there are law-abiding citizens(i.e. themselves and their families/friends) and criminals(everyone else). They just assume that because everyone is a criminal, we must all know the jargon.

  12. If you imagine the stooge buying the stuff as speaking in the voice of Joe Friday, the story goes down a lot easier.

  13. This is the same sort of bullshit entrapment that the cops do with alcohol. In college I had a crappy cashier job at a giant supermarket – I got caught selling beer to some forty-year-old looking teenager they sent through my line.

  14. Jennifer,
    I remember a couple of years ago, here in DC, the cops gathered up all the prostitutes on 14th street and forced them to march across the bridge into Virginia.
    It’s off topic, I know. It’s just a funny memory.

  15. Oh, Joe-Bob, I don’t know. Matches and lighter fluid – what are you going to do with dis?

    Hey Patel, I’m gonna…finish a cook.

    I can not sell to you den.

    Just kiddin. I’m gonna burn down my ex wife’s house.

    O.K. den, just don’t use dat fire to make any of da crazy meth.

    Yeah, yeah. And give me a liter of Beam and a pack o’smokes. I’m gonna get lung cancer and be THREE times over the legal limit when I do it!”

  16. Thank you. Come again!

  17. Some astute person actually mentions the above-mentioned incident on Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_Street_Bridge

    Wikipedia really is one of the coolest things on earth right now.

  18. Two words:

    Fucking

    Stupid

  19. The other day I saw an episode of COPS where they bust weed buyers. The buyer drives up to some undercover cops in an alley, and once the sale is complete, two police SUVs ram the buyer’s car at low speed and 20 cops run out with guns drawn. Then the cops cuff and search, and tell the driver: “This car is now ours, maybe you can buy it back at auction.” Then the cops show the baggie of weed and proudly proclaim: “Yeah, this is about $30 of weed.”

    Protect and serve indeed.

  20. I’ve been going out of my way trying to see the “state-friendly” side of things lately. Here, I got nothin’. Southerners have a stereotype for a reason.

    Locked me up ‘nother one a them Towelheads last night. Yee-haw!

  21. “finish up a cook”? I was born and raised in the supposedly meth-crazy midwest and I’d have no idea what this guy is talking about. These people are flat out of control. I hope the jury has the same reaction, or better yet, that a sane judge doesn’t let things go that far.

    Does anyone else think it’s a pretty bizarre milestone when cops are making up the jargon that they use to to bust oblivious foreigners? That law is genioos! The junkies will never think of buying Sudafed without ANOUNCING THEMSELVES. MISSION ACCOPLISHED!

  22. Hmmmm, I’m not in the drug trade, but I think I know that matches+fuel+cook means a grill-out.

    And where there is a grill-out, there is beer.
    And ‘beer’ starts with ‘b’ which rhymes with ‘d’ which stands for ‘drunks’
    Which means rednecks.
    Which leads to meth.

    How could the clerks not see the obvious connection?

  23. –“Is there a cold medicine industry group? I’d think they’d be pretty pissed at the fact that their decongestants are being scheduled as drugs.”

    Yes, there is one, but they’re quite pleased with this on the whole. Get the non-patented stuff behind the counter where they can charge patent-monopoly prices, all while leaving the patented stuff OTC. Big money boost for them.

  24. Hey I think I’m the most anti-WOD guy on this blog but this is a post about meth one hour after the last post about meth. Worse it’s Jennifer’s post on meth (from the comments on the earlier post on meth)

    Jennifer, I’d be, well not pissed exactly, but peevish anyway.

  25. Warren, yeah, I DID think that when I saw this post. But then I figured I’m lame enough for spending so many of my work hours posting on someone else’s blog; complaining about a lack of recognition for posting on someone else’s blog would raise me from “lame” to “quadriplegic.”

    But dammit, I POSTED THIS FIRST!!! Waaaaaah!

  26. To quote Dr. Ferris: “Did you really think we want those laws observed. We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted ? and you create a nation of law-breakers ? and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system.”

  27. Stubby —
    I remember the KMart deal well! I used to live about a mile west of the store on Westheimer. My favorite part is that if the cops really wanted to catch racers, they could have just stood at the corner on Westheimer and Gessner for five minutes and made their quota.

    The Oregonian did a big report on meth awhile back (see http://www.oregonlive.com/special/oregonian/meth/. The most interesting part to me was discussion on the supply of pseudoephedrine (sp?) — if the U.S. were simply to ban it (and apparently there are substitutes that can’t be used for meth production), it would affect global demand and profitability to the point to where the two or three factories that make that ingrediant would find other things to make, effectively getting rid of meth. According to the report, it hasn’t happened b/c the drug company lobbyists have ways of making sure things don’t happen. Interesting stuff, especially because how often does the opportunity to actually eradicate a drug come up?

  28. …if the U.S. were simply to ban [pseudo ephedrine]… According to the report, it hasn’t happened b/c the drug company lobbyists have ways of making sure things don’t happen. Interesting stuff, especially because how often does the opportunity to actually eradicate a drug come up?

    Huh? So the real problem is that the government just didn’t go far enough by simply adding another drug to the list of banned substances? I thought the problem was telling people what they can and cannot ingest into their own body. I guess I missed something.

  29. Geez, Brian, get with the program. This is a libertarian website, meaning we think people have too damn much liberty.

    [cue biggus dickus parody. I swear, that guy cracks me up.]

    [Oh, and I mean “crack” in the non-substance abusing sense of the term.]

  30. I agree that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but ignorance of drug slang certainly ought to be.

  31. In the earlier meth thread I mentioned the possibility that maybe, just maybe, stuff like this could be the beginning of the end of the war on drugs–a lot of people found it easy to support when they could say “Well, MY drug of choice isn’t on the list so this doesn’t affect me.” But now it IS starting to affect non-drug users. I mean, c’mon–prescription-only cold medicine? Aluminum foil and coffee filters considered suspicious?

    But Warren thought this wouldn’t matter, because many sheep actually ENJOY losing their civil liberties since it makes them feel “safe.” What do the rest of you think?

  32. Jennifer,

    I think Warren is right, as I mentioned on that other thread. The Eve Holbrooks of the world are unfortunately always ready to accept that whatever the government is doing to “protect” us, whether from terrorists or the dreaded scourge of drugs, must be a good thing. This kind of stuff just makes them feel good that they can be a part of war on (fill in the blank).

    Oh, and Jennifer, aren’t you supposed to be the resident pessimist here? Since when did you start thinking things might actually get better? 🙂

  33. Jennifer,
    You know the story about the frog that doesn’t know it’s being boiled until it’s too late? Most people won’t care about intrusive laws and regulations until it has a real, measurable effect on their quality of life (e.g. checkpoints on major highways, state border crossing stations, outlawing personal gardens, etc.). I also think that many posters on this board lead more… um… “libertine” lives than our heartland compatriots.

    Once everyeone is harassed, maybe elections will tip towards more freedom (or maybe not). Until that point, they will be more than happy to give little bits of ground over and over.

  34. oh, the point of the libertine comment was that people here tend to be more sensitive to government dickery than others who see drug laws as good and just and drugs as evil perverters.

  35. This madness will never end.

    nmg

  36. Brian–

    Sheer desperation.

  37. Well, as someone who just moved to Oregon and has a cold, I’m pretty ticked.

  38. Shelby,

    Welcome to Oregon. No, you can’t have any Sudafed and you can’t pump your own gas. But look on the bright side; we do have lots of great microbreweries. 🙂

  39. I also think that many posters on this board lead more… um… “libertine” lives than our heartland compatriots.

    I don’t. I smoke a cigarette or cigar about once a month and I am constantly under the influence of caffeine, but that is it.
    I can’t help but think about the results of the recent Ban the Ban outing. When the smokers they ran into said that they welcomed the anti-smoking legislation since it might help them quit smoking. I guess that’s just the other side of the same coin.

  40. “I mean, c’mon–prescription-only cold medicine? Aluminum foil and coffee filters considered suspicious?”

    Whatever. Joe and Jane Sheeple will be more than happy to sign and provide ID (because we all know that it shouldn’t be a problem if you have nothing to hide) on their way to being searched at the subway station. Providing ID to buy aluminum foil is just a minor inconvenience that we have to put up with so the terrorists won’t bomb us again. I had another rude awakening the other day that civil liberties are officially dead. I applied for a mortgage, and before they could submit my application, they told me that I had to submit two forms of ID and a copy of my Social Security card due to Patriot Act requirements. That’s when I realized that I spend too much time here because I was absolutely freaking livid. I seriously wanted to cancel the whole application because I was so outraged (WTF does the government need to know where I live), but the loan originator told me that I was the first person who ever complained about it, which made me even more depressed. You all should feel much safer knowing that terrorists now have to use their fake ID and SS# to obtain a mortgage.

  41. I applied for a mortgage, and before they could submit my application, they told me that I had to submit two forms of ID and a copy of my Social Security card due to Patriot Act requirements.

    Tell me about it. Nine months ago my boyfriend and I moved to a new apartment, and as luck would have it my boyfriend’s car died at the same time. Now, he had plenty of money to buy a new one–that wasn’t a problem–but he still had to wait a few days to get his new car because the PATRIOT Act requires people to provide proof-of-residence before they buy a car. So, as if moving to a new apartment wasn’t aggravating enough, we also had to spend a couple of days as a one-car family, until our new landlord gave us a copy of our lease.

  42. Huh? Think? Wadaya mean?

  43. One of the most frightening thing about the worthless Oregon prescription bill is how The Oregonian (whose coverage has been unbelievably credulous and non-critical) claims this might serve as an example of how Republicans and Democrats can come together to achieve “bipartisan accomplishments” in other areas. Great, just what we need…

  44. I’m wondering if it will also be illegal for Oregonians to buy Sudafed in Washington or California and then take it back home.

  45. regulator: Even if the government were successfully able to eradicate all pseudoephedrine from the United States, it would very likely have almost no effect on the supply of methamphetamine in the long term. Meth used to be made from phenyl-2-propanone, an industrial chemical that was classified as a schedule 2 substance in 1980. When that became hard to get, meth labs found a way to make meth from ephedrine. When that was restricted in the late 90s, they switched to pseudoephedrine. I am confident in the ability of America’s meth entrepreneurs to find a new and innovative way to make meth from something else if pseudoephedrine is banned.

  46. I was quite curious about the notion of the PATRIOT ACT requiring proof of address to buy a car. According to what I found, it does require this sometimes. Either Jennifer’s case fits that circumstance, or the car dealer was confused, or the car dealer is erring on the extreme side of caution to be sure of not violating the law.

    “If, for example, you purchase a car for over $10,000 in cash*, you will be asked to provide certain information, either to a dealer or another individual such as the loan officer. The form requires that certain personal information be obtained from you. This includes:

    Name
    Address
    Date of birth
    Social Security number
    Occupation
    The company reporting to the IRS must also verify your identity and report a description of the documents that were used.

    Reporting on IRS Form 8300 is required for a number of different transactions, including:

    Personal or real property purchased.
    Personal services provided.
    Business services provide.
    Intangible property purchased.
    Debt obligations paid.
    Exchange of cash.
    Escrow or trust funds.
    Bail received by court clerks.

    *Cash means U.S. and foreign currency, a cashier?s check, money order, bank draft, or travelers checks. IRS Form 8300 states: ?Cash does not include a check drawn on the payer?s own account such as a personal check, regardless of the amount.?

    So if your boyfriend bought a car worth more than $10,000, and he paid in actual cash, money order, etc (not a personal check) then the dealer was following the law of the PATRIOT ACT. Otherwise, the dealer screwed up (or lied, for reasons of his own)

  47. Talk shows from Oprah to the old Ricky Lake have been instilling a fear of cough syrup in those parents who sit home and watch TV all day.

  48. Jeff-

    Based upon what Tsiroth said, don’t you think the dealer went overboard when you bought your car? I don’t recall you paying for it with a wad of greenbacks.

  49. Jennifer,

    Legally, “cash” sales refer to full payment at the time of purchase, even if done with a check.

  50. We didn’t have to wait or prove our address when we bought our car recently. Of course, we bought it from a family friend, so maybe he cut a corner for us.

  51. Woo, prescription only cold medicine.

    Take that, unemployed sick Oregonians! That’ll teach you to get a cold without insurance to pay for a doctor’s visit to get a prescription!

    Now you’ll just have to SUFFER. Which is as it should be.

  52. I am confident in the ability of America’s meth entrepreneurs to find a new and innovative way to make meth from something else if pseudoephedrine is banned.

    I’m not a chemist, so I don’t know what’s substitutable in the recipe for meth. Apparently there are subsitutes in the recipe for the cold medicine though (that supposedly can’t be made into meth). Why it’s interesting to me is that the supply isn’t a bunch of farmers with relatively low start up costs feeding processing operations with relatively low start up costs — the supply comes from two or three (presumably) high start up cost factories. How does the landscape change if those go away? Obviously a shift to new drugs for those who choose to go that way, but there presumably would be effects on expenditures on social services, law enforcement, etc.

    I think it will be interesting if, because of all the different state regulations on the sale of cold medicines, if the medicine companies switch away from psuedoephedrine just to skirt the bans (and the costs incurred because of them), thus possibly having the same effect as an overall ban on pseudoephedrine itself.

    Shelby,
    Welcome to Oregon. The state motto should be “at least the scenery is nice.”

  53. Oregon is insane: You can legally kill yourself with barbituates but you can neither pump your own goddamn gasoline NOR buy some drugs for your damn alergies. That’s fucking crazy. Jesus I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. Not like Texas is better, of course.

  54. Joe: I wondered about that, too, if cash means simply, full purchase of the car, rather than purchase with credit, but that does not appear to be the case here. It may not have been clear from
    my original post, but that was not *my* definition of cash. To repeat:

    Cash means U.S. and foreign currency, a cashier?s check, money order, bank draft, or travelers checks. IRS Form 8300 states: ?Cash does not include a check drawn on the payer?s own account such as a personal check, regardless of the amount.?

    The information I quoted comes from
    http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs31-CIP.htm

    Sorry for not including that cite in the original post.

  55. “We didn’t have to wait or prove our address when we bought our car recently. Of course, we bought it from a family friend, so maybe he cut a corner for us.”

    Cut a corner? Don’t you mean evaded the law? I’d like to know the name and address of this so-called friend who hates our freedom, so I can report this outrage to the feds.

  56. Jennifer: The only one who got fired was the guy who planned and led the “raid,” but I guess that’s as it should be. I was pleasantly surprised. And I was pleasantly surprised that the judge, who recently ruled that all 10 suits against the city can proceed, called the arrests “almost totalitarian.”

    And I’m depressed about everything else that’s been discussed around here today, esp. cold medicine and Santorum.

  57. As far as I can tell from the list in the definition of cash, what they are trying to separate is traceable funds vs. untraceable funds, which makes sense in the context of protecting us all from anonymous car buyers, I guess.

    By the way, none of this should be construed as support for this type of reporting, I just think discussions of PATRIOT are better served by accurate information. Any time a criticism of PATRIOT is inaccurate, it weakens the argument.

    As a side note: Evidently the government are unconcerned about terrorists making anonymous purchases of less expensive cars. As the proud owner of a $3500 car that was not purchased on credit, I resent the implication that this somehow makes me less of a threat than Jeff, just because his car cost more. =)
    Talk about class discrimination!

  58. CLERK ARRESTED, RELEASED FOR NOT BEING ‘WITH IT’
    Lack of knowledge of drug lingo causes confusion, sodomy

    MACON — An employee of the Jack Rabbit convenience store on 5th and Main was arrested earlier Wednesday in a sting operation to catch clerks who knowingly sell Sudafed and other pseudoepherdrine-bearing medicines to customers who admit the drug will be used to make methamphetamine.

    Undercover agents approached the counter where Amanda Hugginkiss, 33, was working the early morning shift. At the time of the sale, the agents told Hugginkiss they had to “finish up a cook,” which is common drug lingo for “I’m going home to make meth, fuck yeah!”

    When Hugginkiss said nothing but rang up the sale, the agents repeated themselves.

    “He gave us a strange look,” said one of the agents, “And then he said, ‘What?'”

    The agents immediately tackled Hugginkiss and beat him into submission. ‘What?’ is a commonly known underground term for, ‘Meth is cool. Would you like to also purchase magazines featuring naked 13-year-old Vietnamese girls?’

    However, after questioning at police headquarters about his connections to the methamphetamine industry and his predeliction for Asian child pornography, detectives determined that he may not have understood the agents’ vernacular.

    “I think this dude stopped being cool sometime in the late ’80s,” said one officer, on the condition of anonymity. “I was playing good cop, and I asked him if he wanted some Bactine after my partner, the bad cop, had just given him another beating. He said, ‘Word. This shit is ill.'”

    Hugginkiss was released earlier today after being issued a summons to appear in court. “And he better be fucking wearing a smile when he gets there, so help me,” said the officer.

    When asked how the experience affected him, Hugginkiss admitted that while in custody he had his first homosexual experience, which he described as “unwanted.”

    “We’ll make sure to charge him for that,” said the officer.

    -30-

  59. Those convenience store arrests are the goofiest things I have ever heard of. My brother-in-law lives in Cataula, Georgia, and there’s a convenience store a few hundred feet from his house that is owned and operated by a very nice Indian gentleman. When we visited a couple of months ago, I walked down there every morning to buy Frappuccinos, while the in-laws had their morning coffee. The owner’s English is excellent, but I doubt he would have understood the “cook” reference. Hell, I don’t think I would have. I sure hope he wasn’t one of the ones arrested. That guy worked 12 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  60. I’m simply appalled by this shirking of police responsibility. Mr Hugginkiss should have been locked up.

    After all, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    If we, as the guardians of the nation and the parents of our children are to protect ourselves from the drug scourge, it is our civic duty to keep ourselves informed of current drug slang.

    If someone’s child is overheard on the phone talking about “smoking a fatty”, a parent needs to know that he is not planning on setting fire to an overweight citizen, but is actually intending to smoke marijuana.

    Know your drug slang, citizens. It’s not just your duty, it’s the law!

  61. Another Oregonian suffering from a cold. I just used up my last Robitussin Cough and Cold supply. I have 2 more doses of some generic, but I think the generic is a dud; it hasn’t done shit for me. Maybe I could sell the duds on the street corner and make a few bucks.

    I am not going to go along with this neo-prohibitionist bullshit. I might drive across the river to Washington to see if the stuff is still OTC. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it was either behind the counter (I know Washington has been considering the move; I don’t know if it is in place) or unavailable because of a run on the product in anticipation of a ban. To add insult to injury, by going to Washington, I have to pay a sales tax. There Ain’t No Justice.

    Back to the sting busts. So now convenience stores are the meth equivalent of head shops: they can be busted at will for supplying “paraphernalia”? Can we soon expect the same of places that sell mirrors, spoons, and straws?

  62. Yo man, waddup? I gonna be basket-weavin’ in the mango groves tonight, you know what I’m sayin’? Gonna be swamp-fishin’ in the polar casbah, you know what I’m sayin’?

    You’d better know what I’m saying, because you’ll go to prison for thirty years if you don’t.

    But if Amanda agrees to testify against some other posters here I can get him a reduced sentence. Listen, Amanda–even if you don’t have any actual dirt on anybody, just make some stuff up, okay? You need brownie points with the DA and I need another conviction on my record. It’s a win-win situation for us both.

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