GPS tracking finds suspected meth operation
Law enforcement also follows pseudoephedrine purchases by suspects in raid at Scranton homes
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
A Carroll County sheriff’s deputy used a GPS vehicle-tracking device and pseudoephedrine sales logs to uncover a suspected methamphetamine-production ring in Scranton, according to search warrant documents filed in district court on Monday.
The records allege that at least five Scranton residents — Ian P. Schaff, 31, Shelly J. Eschbach, 49, Amanda N. Jackson, 28, Bobby E. McGee, 58, and David N. Lewis, 40 — drove to Carroll to buy unusually large amounts of cold medicines and other products that contain pseudoephedrine, a primary ingredient of homemade meth.
Together, the five people bought a total of about 101 grams of pseudoephedrine from April 2011 to January 2012, records show. Sheriff’s deputy Jon Cretsinger — who obtained a search warrant for the suspects’ houses — estimated that amount of pseudoephedrine could have produced 93 grams of meth — the equivalent of more than 360 doses of the drug, according to federal officials.
Cretsinger’s electronic tracking found that Eschbach, who lives with Schaff, made frequent stops at two Scranton houses where Jackson, McGee and Lewis live.
Further in-person surveillance confirmed those visits and some of the pseudoephedrine purchases in Carroll at Walgreens and Walmart.
Carroll and Greene counties’ sheriff’s departments, with the help of other county and state agencies, searched four Scranton-area houses on Thursday.
They found suspected methamphetamine, marijuana, syringes, drug-smoking pipes and a bong, weight scales, cash and the remains of meth-production labs, according to court records and a press release from the Greene County Sheriff’s office.
Investigators also found about $20,000 worth of health-care equipment and over-the-counter medications allegedly bought with stolen credit cards.
One person — Joann J. George, 39, of no listed hometown — was arrested on a Carroll County warrant for failure to appear in court.
Criminal charges are pending against the others targeted with the search warrants, Greene County Sheriff Tom Heater said.
The suspected drugs seized Thursday must be confirmed with tests by the State Crime Lab in Ankeny, he explained. The process could take weeks.
Cretsinger’s use of a GPS tracking device comes amid a heated debate in the Iowa Legislature over proposed legislation that would enable any police officer or sheriff’s deputy to obtain permission from a judge to track a criminal suspect’s vehicle.
State civil-rights officials have said that the practice violates residents’ privacy.
Court records do not specifically say how Cretsinger gained a warrant to track Eschbach’s vehicle, but Iowa law allows state law-enforcement agents to apply for the GPS tracking warrants and delegate their execution to any city or county officer.
Carroll County Attorney John Werden declined to say whether that was how Cretsinger obtained permission to use the tracking device, but he said Carroll deputies have used the devices for years.
“GPS tracking can provide the critical edge to prosecute serious criminal behavior,” he said in an email. “Not every investigation merits or needs the time and expense” that accompanies the technique.
In 2010, Iowa joined more than a dozen states that track pseudoephedrine sales through an electronic system. That new tracking system enhanced a 2005 Iowa law that required pharmacies to keep pseudoephedrine products behind their sales counters and to log the sales.
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