Alert Wal-Mart employees helped agents from the Gila County Narcotics Task Force Thursday stop a Valley couple from setting up a methamphetamine lab, agents said.
Thursday afternoon, store cashiers spotted a couple buying large quantities of over-the-counter medications containing ephedrine one of the key ingredients in making meth.
"(Wal-Mart's loss-prevention manager Colin Sayler) notified police, and when we investigated, we found that they had made several purchases of the medications," an undercover officer said.
Daniel Clifford Blatchley and Jennifer Ann Cox of Mesa were arrested on a variety of drug charges. Cox was released to the custody of her father; Blatchley remains in Gila County jail in lieu of a $7,500 bond.
According to a task force agent, 51-year-old Blatchley and his 18-year-old girlfriend were on their way to Forest Lakes Thursday, when they stopped at the Wal-Mart Supercenter to stock up on cold medications.
The agent said the couple made three trips into the store and bought five or more boxes of cold medicine during each trip. After the third trip, Wal-Mart employees called the police.
"We found a total of 17 boxes of pills containing ephedrine, which was over the legal limit," the agent said. By law, a consumer cannot buy more than 24 grams of ephedrine. With the 17th box, the couple exceeded that amount by 480 milligrams.
"Yes, people have the right to stock up on medications," the agent said, "but it would be pretty unusual for someone to stock up on 17 or 18 boxes of cold tablets.
"After they were arrested, and we obtained a search warrant, we found red phosphorus, which is used to break down the pills, marijuana and drug paraphernalia (in the couple's car)," the agent said. He said they also found inside the couple's 1985 Nissan 300 ZX all of the necessary equipment and chemicals to set up a meth lab.
The vehicle and all of its contents were seized and the two suspects were booked into jail on charges ranging from possession of dangerous drugs, to possession of the equipment to manufacture dangerous drugs.