Iowa Woman Who Didn't Break Allergy Pill Limit Law Charged with Crime Anyway

Overzealous prosecutors target farmer's wife and friends


Wal-phed: Decongestant of the Devil

The Des Moines Register's Reader's Watchdog tells the rather predictable tale of anti-meth zealotry run amok, as a 50-year-old farmer's wife faces trial for buying too much pseudoephedrine at a Walgreens in the small town of Ottumwa, Iowa. Of note, even though she bought a lot of allergy pills, she actually didn't break Iowa law. Yet she could still face a 25-year sentence for a conspiracy "with one or more persons to manufacture, deliver or possess with intent to deliver … a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine."

Lee Rood of the Register notes the details:

This case began when members of the southeast drug task force obtained a warrant to search the state's database of pseudoephedrine purchases for those suspected of "smurfing" for the cold and allergy drugs in the area.

Smurfers use power in numbers, taking turns buying meth's key ingredients, while prepping for a planned cook.

McGee said that last fall, task force investigator Mark Milligan called her and asked her to come over to Ottumwa to explain her purchase of 32 allergy-drug packages since late 2010 — all but a couple at the Walgreens in Ottumwa.

She said she tried to explain that she has severe allergies, especially when she is out in the fields, and that she was in the habit of picking up some Wal-phed when she made the more than hourlong road trip to Ottumwa from Lovilia and back.

McGee did buy a lot of pills, Rood reports, but McGee's total purchases of pseudophedrine were still within the limits of Iowa law.

Also snatched up in this alleged meth ring were McGee's sister and the wife of the mayor of the tiny town of Lovilia, Iowa, population 538. According to Rood, their lawyers have told the ladies not to talk. McGee told Rood she's now afraid that somebody is going lie on the stand and say she gave them pills.

Rood decided not to let the story go. She ran an initial story on Friday and then followed up again on Saturday with more information. In her follow-up column she explores an all-too-familiar component of these drug ring busts, getting police informants to name names in exchange for dropping or reducing charges. McGee figured out how her name and the names of her friends could have gotten dragged into the proceedings:

Then there were others in the alleged ring whom McGee said she barely knew or had never heard of: Sean Crawford, Scott Merrill, Melinda Schultz, Shawn See, Kevin Tangie and Robert Tangie.

The person who does stick out in the alleged conspiracy is Douglas Maddy, McGee's cousin.

McGee said she knew her cousin had a drug history. And she knows his girlfriend, Teresa Denherder, also had been arrested on drug charges.

But McGee claims that neither she nor her husband have had anything to do with drug activity in the area, and that she is tied to Maddy through her favorite aunt, who has dementia.

She said she didn't know until I told her that Maddy had been convicted in 2005 of pseudoephedrine possession. "Until I was questioned, I didn't even know Doug's girlfriend's last name," she said.

Rood spoke with a local defense attorney who has dealt with similar cases (but not McGee's) and said McGee is absolutely right to worry that somebody could have given authorities her name in exchange for a reduced sentence, regardless of any actual involvement.

Both of Rood's pieces are worth a read. She goes on to investigate and point out that the drug log method used to keep track of pseudoephedrine purchase in Iowa has done little to curb the meth lab problem because meth manufacturers simply adapted and changed the formula again. Always bet on the black market.