Gila County Task Force Requests Public's Help On Drug Activity

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The onset of the spring season has Gila County Drug Task Force officers on the alert for increased illegal drug activity.

According to a local veteran undercover agent, spring is usually the time of year drug dealers scatter in the surrounding forests to plant marijuana fields.

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This large crop of marijuana found in the forest underscores the extent of the illegal drug industry in Gila County, as well as throughout all of Arizona.

"We are seeing a lot of it being done by Mexican nationals," he said. "Some are tied to Mexican marijuana cartels, some with prison gangs and others are working off smuggling debts."

In addition to increased marijuana activity, agents said methamphetamine production usually increases in the spring and summer months.

In growing marijuana, drug dealers usually choose secluded areas on public lands where water is nearby.

According to the GCDTF agents, the fields are usually in drainages, small canyons or creek bottoms. While irrigation of the plants is usually by gravity-fed drip systems, agents have also discovered more sophisticated methods.

"We found fields where generators, pumps and 1-inch rolled black tubing was used," the agent said. "We've even seen systems where they pump water, up to a quarter of a mile, uphill."

Those who tend the fields are often not there by choice.

"Sometimes they've been kidnapped or maybe working off a smuggling debt," the task force agent said. "They are usually taken blindfolded and dropped off to look after the fields.

"Once in awhile they (the illegal growers) drive by and throw off a little food for the men."

Only last week, agents arrested two men for possession of dangerous drugs, including marijuana and meth, and discovered a meth lab northeast of Payson.

While agents found that the highly dangerous and toxic anhydrous ammonia was being used in the meth lab, the drug is more often made locally with three common ingredients -- pseudoephedrine, iodine and red phosphorus or "Red P" as it is called in the drug world.

Rounding up the ingredients can be rather simple, the agents said.

Illegal drug makers can purchase pseudoephedrine, found in some cold medicines, over the counter, buy iodine from pharmacies and obtain Red P from the striking pad on match books.

If illegal drug makers are questioned when buying any of the items, they usually have a seemingly valid reason for the purchase.

For example, if a pharmacist asks about the purchase of iodine tincture, a drug dealer can say it's for his horse's hooves.

Other items that indicate illegal drugs are being manufactured include portable stove fuel, muriatic acid (HCL), acetone, paint thinner, denatured alcohol, tubing, PVC connections, lye and PH strips.

"Under no circumstances should anyone handle a meth lab, especially one that has (anhydrous) ammonia," an agent said. "That is dangerous stuff. It can cause serious damage or even kill you."

The advice from the agents to anyone who might stumble on a makeshift meth lab or a marijuana field is to plot the location and immediately notify the task force, at (928) 474-0728.

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