Suspicious Post Office Package Leads to THC Lab
The following article was featured by the Pike County New’s Watchman, covering the events that lead to the discovery of a THC Lab:
Last weekend, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader made a shattering discovery after receiving a call from the Piketon postmaster reporting a 38-pound package that smelled like marijuana. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the package could be traced to a Pike County residence where a THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), also known as “shatter”, lab was located.
“I received a phone call from the Piketon postmaster who advised that they had a rather large box that weighed 38 pounds at the post office. She suspected that it had marijuana in it, due to the fact that she could smell it,” said Sheriff Reader. “I brought in a K-9 to confirm the suspicions that the package contained marijuana, and the K-9 searched the building and alerted us to the box containing marijuana with a street value of nearly $100,000. At that point, I called in the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force as well as postal inspectors because certain policies and procedures had to be followed since it was a federal building.”
Undercover task force units were placed at the post office awaiting the owner’s arrival to claim the package, which had been shipped from California, said Sheriff Reader.
“The next day, someone came in to the post office to pick up packages, and the box belonged to her husband, so the postmaster asked her if she would like to pick up that particular box and she did so,” said Sheriff Reader. “Once the box left the facility, the Task Force, along with my deputies and other agencies, were involved in a controlled stop of the vehicle, where the package from the post office was recovered and brought back to my office along with the female driver who was reviewed and ultimately released.”
Sheriff Reader says a search warrant was obtained to search the box and information was gathered from the postmaster and postal inspectors as well as the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force, and a search warrant was prepared for a residence in Pike County.
“Upon arriving there and executing the search warrant, we found evidence of the finished product, shatter, in one location at the residence as well as numerous cans of butane in another location. As the investigation continued, it became evident that we had found not only one, but numerous shatter labs being conducted at this location, as well as an indoor marijuana grow which supplied the marijuana for the shatter labs,” said Reader. “The most alarming thing we found was an aluminum tube on the side of the house. This was brought to the attention of my units by a fire department member, as we were concentrating on the inside of the residence.”
Reader says the tube was removed from the house, and evidence was collected from the primary dwelling and a block building located on the property, said Reader.
“It is evident that the product was being made in the block building and, once the liquid form was produced, it was then taken to the living quarters where it was pressurized and the finished product was made,” said Reader. “When we were processing the tube, we found that it was completely filled with marijuana. A ladder was also positioned at the side of the house to give accessibility to the top of the tube and a shut-off valve. The way the tubing was constructed was so that the butane could be put into the tube to produce an unimaginable amount of hash oil, or shatter, enough to make an amount that has probably never been seen in Pike County.”
The Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) was contacted by Reader but did not assist with the investigation, stating that the scene could be processed in the same manner as a methamphetamine laboratory.
“BCI advised us that they had only handled one other shatter lab in Lancaster, Ohio, and that we would probably have the knowledge and capability to handle the lab as we would with meth labs and that they probably couldn’t provide us with any service more than what we could do ourselves since this drug is so new to Ohio,” said Reader. “Major Tim Dickerson has been trained and has been dismantling meth labs in Pike County for the past 10 years, so I called him to the scene along with a squad and Hazmat, and we used a hands-off approach once we learned what we were dealing with.”
Once at the scene, Major Dickerson began collecting evidence and secured the scene.
“This was the first THC lab scene I had ever worked on. When I arrived at the scene, I began to identify materials and equipment that is commonly used in the THC extraction method, or the extraction of oil from marijuana,” said Dickerson. “During this process, an aluminum tube is packed with marijuana and butane is shot through it, and the oil is extracted from the marijuana. The oil is then spread out onto a pyrex dish and heated very slowly to extract the butane from the oil. It is cooked down to pure THC oil and is scraped up to be smoked in a water bong or pipe, giving a high that is a lot more intense than just smoking regular marijuana.”
Evidence was collected by Major Dickerson and will be submitted to BCI, said Dickerson.
“It was obvious that this was not someone doing this for their own recreational use. This lab was intended for manufacturing purposes, proven by the type of equipment used, including industrial vales and the very large pipe,” said Dickerson. “From a safety standpoint, there were several dangers, including inhalation risk, contact, and fire hazards from the butane,” said Dickerson. “When the oil is heated, it has butane in it, which is very flammable, so they have to work without a flame. Sometimes the pyrex gets so hot it creates an explosion hazard. We first had to open up the home and get it aired out before identifying the materials being used, some of which were collected to be destroyed, and some were collected to be used as evidence.”
Because of the explosion risk and flammability, Dickerson said the scene was treated as a clandestine drug lab.
“We also found an indoor marijuana grow there and have information about the marijuana which came out of California,” Dickerson said. “We also recovered a pint jar almost a quarter full of finished manufactured hash oil, which we sent to BCI. This was definitely one of the biggest production labs I’ve ever handled due to the amount of the product located and the amount it would have ultimately produced.”
According to Sheriff Reader, THC is a very “volatile” and “potent” drug.
“We are dealing with something totally different than someone smoking a marijuana joint. THC oil, or hash oil, is so potent that, in my belief, there’s no way that it couldn’t cause some sort of physical harm to someone who uses it. I’m devastated that it has made its way to Pike County and is being made in labs here,” said Reader. “We fight the heroin epidemic every day and we still see meth labs, but when we get a simple call from the post office about a box that may contain marijuana and that leads to an investigation that leads to a search warrant and investigation and find a pretty sophisticated THC lab setup, a 12-14-foot tube on the outside of a residence that is stuffed with marijuana, (it) is very alarming to say the least.”
The case is in “the very early stages,” said Reader.
“We are working with federal employees and federal investigators on the case due to the drugs being shipped in the mail and possibly flights to other states. This case will stem beyond Pike County and beyond our state,” Reader said. “We’re not only looking into post office records of particular people in this county who were receiving packages, but also where they have mailed packages from our county to other states. We are also checking flight records to see if any persons in our county may be of interest who are flying out of Columbus and other adjacent airports. We are checking records in other states where they may be flying to, mailing packages to, or accepting mail from. It is the beginning of the investigation, so we still have people to interview who we have yet to make contact with.”
Interviews with persons of interest began on Monday, said Reader.
“At this time, I don’t know if these individuals will be witnesses or suspects, or in this situation they could be both. I want to make sure the investigation is complete, regardless of if we do it at the local level or if it goes to a federal level. It is crucial that all our ‘i’s’ are dotted and ‘t’s’ are crossed so as not to miss any details in this case,” said Reader. “Right now, I do not want to disclose the address of any particular persons until we’ve identified everyone who is involved and have the chance to interview them and go forward. I expect this to lead to other search warrants both locally and in other jurisdictions. Ultimately, we will do what we can to work with other law enforcement agencies to ensure that the integrity of the investigation remains intact so that when we get to the charging and grand jury stage and when the trial comes, we will be prepared. When the investigation is complete, the names of those involved in this case locally, out of county, and out of state will be released.”
To read more articles published by the Pike County News Watchman visit: http://www.newswatchman.com/