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Alle-Kiski Valley methamphetamine raids result in eight arrests

posted Apr 10, 2011, 10:58 AM by Joseph Gray

Six men and two women were arrested Friday for allegedly making and selling methamphetamine in Armstrong and Westmoreland counties.

The arrests took place in Vandergrift, Apollo and Parks.

Additional arrests are anticipated, including an Allegheny Township man said to be in Fox Chapel.

"He is promising to turn himself in," said Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi, who has been probing the alleged "meth" ring since January.

Andreassi said it appears suspect Brandon L. Watterson of 508 N. Sixth St., Apollo, led the conspiracy.

More lab raids are anticipated in neighboring counties, he said.

The eight suspects, who included a father and son, were arrested by three groups of local and state officers just before 9 a.m.

Unlike two recent meth lab raids at Parks and Apollo, no children were found inside the houses this time, said Ben Waugaman, supervising agent with the state Attorney General's special operations group.

The drug agents, wielding assault rifles, went inside four houses to make the arrests, wearing gas masks and special clothes because of the potential danger posed by the chemicals used in making methamphetamine.

The arrests were made without incident.

"We were prepared to find three active labs," Waugaman said. "We found one, and it was the one at 508 N. Sixth St., near a day-care center."

The eight were formally charged in a small office in the Parks fire hall by District Judge James Andring. Preliminary hearings are set for next week.

By 10:45 a.m., the suspects were in a small bus driven by a deputy sheriff on their way to the county jail.

Some cried. Others shielded their faces with arrest papers while others blankly stared out the windows. One man wore gray sweatpants emblazoned with the burgundy logo of a municipal police training academy.

The eight suspects are accused of using the four-step red phosphorus or "Red P" method to make methamphetamine, and most are charged with selling it.

According to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the process doesn't require a lot of knowledge or education to make the drug. The process uses easy-to-find items, including iodine, over-the-counter cold pills, brake cleaner, drain cleaner, acids and other toxic and potentially explosive substances.

The process produces much more hazardous waste than it does the drug.

Police: Ringleader a skilled 'cooker'

Suspect Brandon Watterson is a "skilled 'cooker' who taught, maybe, eight others to make meth," said Dave Ellis, regional director for the state Attorney General's drug agents.

"Some of these people are charged with 'smurfing.' That's buying components to make meth. We know who they were because they had to sign their names to buy pseudoephedrine," said Ellis, referring to one of the ingredients.

According to police, some of the suspects bought cold pills containing pseudoephedrine in Apollo, Harrison, Hyde Park, Leechburg, Lower Burrell, Pittsburgh Mills, Ross and Vandergrift.

The 39-year-old Watterson served time in a federal prison in the 1990s for buying chemicals to make meth through the mail.

"I'm done. I'll never see the daylight again," Watterson said to Andring, who arraigned the suspect and set his bond at $200,000.

Watterson was arrested inside 508 N. Sixth St., Apollo, where drug agents dismantled a meth lab and found a 4-year-old boy inside on March 24.

Reeking of the distinctive smell, akin to cat urine, that meth ingredients possess, Watterson was arraigned wearing a plastic, disposable jumpsuit and ill-fitting rubber boots because he had to be decontaminated.

His hands appeared to be charred, but instead were badly stained.

Watterson said his hands were dirty from cleaning the house. He said he was doing that so his children and their mother could live there, because he knew he was going to be arrested.

"I didn't think it would be this fast," Watterson muttered.

"No," Agent Waugaman said outside the temporary courtroom, "that's the iodine on his hands."

Meth facts

To read more about how meth works, click here

Physical effects

Methamphetamine is a toxic, addictive stimulant that causes temporary euphoria, a sense of increased energy and tremors.

High doses or chronic use can cause nervousness, irritability and paranoia.

Violent or erratic behavior is often seen. Withdrawal can cause severe depression.

Use of meth can cause brain damage detectable months after use of the drug. Some deaths have occurred.

Sources: Drug Enforcement Administration and White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Meth sweep

Eight suspects were taken into custody Friday by the state Attorney General's special operations group and local police.

These suspects face charges of operating a methamphetamine lab, buying chemicals to make meth, conspiracy to have and sell meth, making meth with children present, risking a catastrophe and child endangerment:

• Jessica Rae Conrad, 33, 3420 Garvers Ferry Road;

• Herbert Norse Covey IV, 32, same address;

• Gary E. Miller, 30, same address; also charged with drug delivery;

• Brandon L. Watterson, 39, 508 N. Sixth St., Apollo; also faces multiple counts of drug delivery, intent to deliver and possession.

These suspects are accused of buying chemicals to make methamphetamine and conspiracy to have and sell meth:

• John Kunkle Jr., 49, 146 Washington Ave, Vandergrift, and 505 North Sixth St., Apollo;

• John Kunkle III, 31, 146 Washington Ave, Vandergrift;

• Amanda L. McLaughlin, 33, same address;

• Ronald L. Rabickow Jr., 39, 1097 Edmon Road, Apollo.

Their bonds range from $50,000 to $200,000.

Read more: Alle-Kiski Valley methamphetamine raids result in eight arrests - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review