Gangs on Meth

The drug is dangerous to law enforcement in several ways. The chemicals utilized are highly toxic and volatile. Clandestine labs are often booby trapped against the police.

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First synthesized in 1887, amphetamines remained largely unknown until 1929, when Gordon A. Alles began producing it for medical purposes in his California lab. America began marketing Benzedrine (Bennies) in 1932 and the more potent Dexedrine (Dexies) in 1945. Japanese, German, and allied soldiers all used amphetamines during WWII to stay awake and fight off hunger.

The Nazi leader Adolph Hitler was a tweaker, as was his Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering. Their addiction to amphetamines explains much about their madness.

Widespread Use

By 1949, more than one and a half million amphetamine tablets were being produced yearly in the USA, and not all were going to the war effort. Purchased both legally and from street venders, bennies were being used by factory workers, housewives, and truck drivers to lose weight and stay awake on those late shifts.

It is perhaps not surprising that the first illicit amphetamine lab was discovered near San Francisco in 1966, the start of the hippie and drug cultural revolutions. In one of his most famous songs about this period Bob Dylan sings, "Johnny is in the basement mixing up the medicine…" However, its dangerous effects soon found Haight-Ashbury's flower children changing their mind on slamming it to chants of "Speed kills."

But Crystal Meth quickly found favor with outlaw motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels, Banditos, Pagans, and Outlaws. Referred to as "crank" because of the manner in which it was often transported—in Harley-Davidson crankcases—it proved an effective means for ugly bikers to attract young females, who they turned out and used for prostitution, topless dancing, and drug running. Over the years I watched some of these young girls burn out on meth. Within a few years of using the drug they would look like they had aged 20 years, sometimes losing all their teeth and most of their hair. The bikers would then dump them for fresh meat.

The U.S. Controlled Substance Act of 1970 tightened the laws on speed and treated amphetamines like cocaine. By 1971 more than 15 pharmaceutical companies were manufacturing over 30 different types of amphetamine tablets numbering more than 5 million a year. These companies knew this greatly exceeded the legitimate medical demand, and that a great percentage of the pills were winding up in the pharmaceutical black market, but they continued to crank them out. In 1973 California instituted its own Controlled Substance Act, similarly treating amphetamines like cocaine.

In the 1980s, crystal meth, crank, go-fast, speed, or tweak was a dirty white boy's drug. Bikers, Skinheads, the Nazi Low Riders, and their tweaking girlfriends were commonly arrested for meth. Meth was also very popular in the gay community. During this period we seized quantities of crudely made "peanut butter," "cheese," or "bathtub crank" meth.

Biker gangs began kidnapping experienced cooks from rival gangs and meth addicts began experimenting with the manufacture of meth in homemade labs. This caused the panic over pseudoephedrine cold medication. But you would have to buy a whole lot of cold medication to make methamphetamine profitable. It is easier to buy ephedrine or pseudoephedrine from Canada or Mexico. No matter that the chemical formulas to manufacture methamphetamine and the ingredients themselves are highly toxic and dangerous; the real danger began to become evident in the insane actions of the speed users.

Unless the consumption of the drug and its pattern of use are interdicted in some way, given time, all methamphetamine users will experience paranoia, hallucinations, and finally methamphetamine psychosis. Meth cooks blew themselves up. Users sometimes killed their best friends or children for no apparent reason. Unbelievable acts of violence and super aggressive behavior were often reported.

Mexican Mafia Involvement

In 1989, a Mexican Mafia member named Eddie "Lalo" Moreno took me to a Mexican drug cartel contact in Pomona, Calif. I had known Lalo as a kid in Compton and our brothers had been good friends since grammar school. I played the part of his Compton homeboy and pistolero (gunman) and we made an undercover narcotics buy for the DEA. The cartel cowboy met us at a nice Mexican restaurant and without a problem "fronted" (advanced) Lalo a half kilo of cocaine to sell, but then surprised us both by throwing in an additional big chunk of yellow methamphetamine. He said that his people had a ton of this stuff but could not get rid of it. He wanted us to see what we could do with it.

This was an example of the entrance of the Mexican cartels into the methamphetamine manufacturing business. The Mexican labs in California were huge, producing tons of speed in an industrial size way. All they lacked was the distribution network and the consumer market expansion. Some of this early meth was not very good, so they also stole meth cooks from biker organizations and developed new formulas.

In 1995, the Mexican Mafia was offered barrels of ephedrine—all the ephedrine they could use—by the Arellano-Felix Tijuana drug organization. The message was brought to a secretly recorded Mexican Mafia meeting by EME member and Arellano-Felix pistolero Bat Marquez. He said that the cartel had barrels and barrels of the ephedrine just south of the border and they would give any EME member a share for a future payment after the meth was cooked and sold. They also requested the EME's help in locating and killing rival cartel member "Chapo" Guzman. Several Mexican Mafia members traveled to Mexico to take up the AFO offer. When the EME members were all taken down in 1995 RICO, Randy "Cowboy" Therrien had a large load of meth in the trunk of his vehicle.

Ice in Paradise

Asian gang members will tell you that it was a Japanese pharmacologist who first synthesized methamphetamine from the Chinese ephedrine plant in 1919. And today some of the best methamphetamine comes from Korea and Japan where it is called "Batoo." This meth is water soluble, smokeable, and so pure it forms crystals that look like tiny shards of glass or ice crystals. Such pure meth is called "glass" or "ice." Biker meth will keep you up for four to six hours, but ice will last up to 12 hours. It is destroying the paradise islands of Hawaii.

In August of 1997, my good friend Rudy Bareng of the DEA called me from Maui to ask why so many Sureños (Southern California Hispanic gang members) were showing up on his island. And did I know some one named Roland Berry?

If you ever watched the movie "American Me," which depicts the early founders of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, you might have noticed that the character who does most of the killing for the gang was not a Hispanic. He was an Asian, a Japanese American named "Jap" Mike Kudo. Jap Mike had survived the prison wars and "retired" to Hawaii along with Mexican Mafia homeboys Paul "Huero Tres" Portillo, Antonio "Tony" Palacios, and Roland "Rolo" Berry. They had landed jobs on the set of "Baywatch," and were seen meeting with local Asian and organized crime figures like Joe John Griffin.

They were in the lucrative business of providing the local natives with "ice" imported from Mexican meth manufacturers in California. Tony Palacios was already in a Hawaiian prison and Roland Berry got arrested in 2000 in San Bernardino and later in Orange County carrying some of his product. Like a classic Yakuza soldier, his body was covered with an intricate collage of tattoos. However, his had a marked Mexican Mafia theme. Sureños continue to land in Maui and their drug operation in Hawaii continues.

Today, Hispanic gang members use speed. Taggers and party crews use sketch. Goths, skate crews, skinheads, and even African American gang members are using it. What is worse, non-gang kids are using methamphetamine, as well. Recently your friendly neighborhood meth manufacturers have put out a new product called "Strawberry Meth," colored and flavored with strawberries and aimed at the younger generation.

Speed Kills

Not to sound like the old movie "Reefer Madness," but speed really does kill. Initially the drug gives a strong euphoria, a superman feeling. Although not really true, the user imagines his senses like hearing, taste, and sight are enhanced. He or she feels smarter than others. Users believe it heightens sexual stimulation. It releases inhibitions and the user finds himself involved in undesirable acts. The user becomes more and more hyperactive as pulse rate, respiration, and blood pressure go up.

If use continues, it often results in sleep deprivation and forgetting to eat. The user's immune system begins to fail. Eventually, paranoia and hallucinations are experienced. Finally, methamphetamine psychosis occurs. The psychosis often involves unexpected violent outbursts even against family and friends.

The drug is dangerous to law enforcement in several ways. The chemicals utilized are highly toxic and volatile. Clandestine labs are often booby trapped against the police. The users, especially intravenous users, are often infected with communicable diseases like Hepatitis C, HIV, and AIDS. And users can act irrationally, believe they are superhuman, or suddenly turn psychotic. Look for these symptoms in the gang members you come in contact with, in or out of custody.

Look out for speeders.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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