Smugglers transport their loads across the Texas border in fake gasoline tanks or other containers hidden on cars and trucks. Cartel members on the American side use solvents and other chemicals to convert the liquid into “shards,” or crystal meth. The shards resemble lumps of yellowish ice.
Scott Stewart, vice president for Stratfor, an Austin-based “global intelligence company” that analyzes world events for its clients, says the Dallas-Fort Worth area and its 6.5 million people play an important role in the Mexican meth industry. North Texas is not only a big market; it also functions as a shipment point, where the product is stored and sent to markets across the country.
“If Texas is a dartboard, then Dallas is the bull’s-eye,” Stewart said. “You guys are on the ‘X’ when it comes to smuggling routes.”
DEA agents and Rattan, a federal prosecutor with 15 years’ experience, painted this outline of how Espinoza’s operation worked:
A boss in Guerrero runs several warehouses like the one in Collin County. They might be located in Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., or Cleveland. Doing business by cellphone, the boss arranges shipments to Espinoza and connects him with customers who want to buy several pounds at a time.
A kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, can cost $20,000. Eventually, it can be cut down into one-gram packets — about a teaspoonful — selling for $100 on the street. Depending on how much street-level dealers dilute the drug, that initial $20,000 could bring in $100,000.
Espinoza made a mistake last March when he began dealing with a confidential informant associated with local police and the DEA, according to court records.
On March 27, DEA agents raided Espinoza’s house. They found four pounds of meth, drug paraphernalia, a pistol, a rifle and equipment used to convert liquid meth into crystal. The house reeked of chemicals.
Equipment used to package the meth was found in the children’s bedroom, along with a stuffed toy that Rattan described as “a teddy bear with a meth enema.”
“You think about why they would expose children to something so dangerous,” she said.
Rattan put Espinoza and an associate, Alfredo Pineda, on trial for drug trafficking. They were convicted and are in jail awaiting sentencing
At the trail’s end
A DEA chemist analyzed the meth confiscated at Espinoza’s house and found it to be 90 percent pure. Drug market experts say that high purity indicates abundant supply: During times of scarcity, dealers dilute their product to stretch it out for sale to more customers.
High-quality meth has profound implications for those who smoke, snort or inject it, because it turns them into addicts quickly. And that means the medical conditions associated with meth use — vitamin deficiency, hair loss, dental problems, damage to the nervous system and to vital organs — descend on them quickly.
Alison Watros, a drug-abuse counselor who runs a halfway house for recovering addicts in North Dallas, has seen a lot of meth addicts struggle to get clean.
Many relapse, she said, because they leave treatment programs too soon.
Windhaven House, Watros’ halfway house, is nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood. If the Mexican superlabs represent the beginning of the meth trail into Texas, Windhaven House sits at trail’s end.
Watros recently convened a group of women, all recovering meth addicts, to discuss their struggles. Each described a journey from ecstasy to misery.
“They take it the first time and spend the rest of the time trying to rediscover the euphoria they once felt,” Watros said.
The addicts said their meth use started out as a many-splendored thing. It helped them lose weight. It turned sadness to happiness, as least for a few hours. It enhanced sex. It gave them added energy to clean house and accomplish more at work. But eventually, they started spending more money to buy more meth, in a futile effort to sustain the blissful high.
“Myra,” 41, said she used meth from 1991 to 1997 and then got clean on her own. In 2008, she started dating a guy who turned out to be a meth user, and she began using again.
“Meth gave me everything I never had: beauty, intelligence, social skills to fit in and be popular,” she said. “It was powerful.”
But it was all a drug-fueled illusion.
Myra knew she had to stop using meth when social workers showed up at her home and took her two children away.
With the help of a 12-step program and extensive counseling, she got her kids back and has been sober for almost two years. But she thinks her meth addiction might have caused lasting health problems.
“I have some tingling in arms and legs and some numbness and twitching, but nothing anyone but me would notice,” she said.
She has this advice for anyone thinking about trying meth:
“It feels so good when you start. But it’s not worth it. It doesn’t last.”
©2012 The Dallas Morning News
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