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Sheriff: Meth use, arrests on the rise in Obion County, northwest Tennessee

Sheriff: Meth use, arrests on the rise in Obion County, northwest Tennessee

Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010 8:55 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 By JOHN BRANNON Staff Reporter Bad news from Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder: Manufacture and trafficking in methamphetamine or “meth” is back. “Meth problems in 2009 in the county were up,” he told The Messenger. “There were six active labs that we reported and put out of business.” The meth problem is one of several issues Vastbinder raised in giving a periodic report to the media. “We’ve had just tons of lab trash that we find,” he said. “This thing, a way of ‘cooking’ called ‘shake and bake,’ is behind it. It’s just one pot, where they put everything, all the horrendous ingredients such as battery acid and ammonum nitrate in a bottle, cap it, come back in an hour or so and everything’s done. “It’s made it harder for us to find the lab because you can do it anywhere — in a car, out in the woods, even on the side of a road and come back later and get it. “So the meth numbers are up across the state right now, definitely up in Obion County.” He and others of the West Tennessee Meth Task Force attribute the increase to hard-core meth “cooks” being released from prison and going back in the business. “A lot of the cooks are being released,” Vastbinder continued. “They were arrested in the early years when meth really hit West Tennessee. Now they’re getting released and back on the streets.” But what the cooks don’t know, until it’s too late, is that anyone charged with manufacture of meth in West Tennessee won’t be prosecuted in state court but in federal court “We’re taking them federal,” he said. “They may not know it but a lot of them are learning it and learning the hard way when they go before a federal judge for initial arraignment. They aren’t happy about it. “Of course, a conviction in federal court means a longer sentence than in the state system. So they’re off the streets for a longer time.” Vastbinder said 90 percent of them are held without bond. “They are told they could be facing 30 years to life for manufacturing meth,” he said. “I think the lowest sentence we’ve had come through the system got 10 years in federal prison. There’s a big difference. On a 10-year sentence, you’ve got to serve eight and a half before you can hope to be released.” The sheriff has some advice for the public about meth labs and meth trafficking. If you suspect a meth lab, call the police or sheriff. “If you’ve seen a large amount of traffic in and out, staying short periods, call and report it,” he said. “If there’s a smell not common to the neighborhood, report it.” A tool that law enforcement uses in its war on meth is Ephedrine registry. Ephedrine, an over-the- counter medicine meant to treat the common cold, is a prime ingredient in manufacturing meth. As such it was a top seller in the state until the legislature cracked down and passed a law requiring vendors to participate in the ephedrine registry. “If you buy a bottle of ephedrine, you have to register,” Vastbinder said. “The information goes into a state system immediately. We can log into the system and see who’s buying over the (needed) amount. We’ve seen cases where people went from Obion County to Dyer County to Crockett County to Madison County to Weakley County and back to Obion County. They were making a loop buying ephedrine. We can see who is buying it and where they’re buying it. Those are the people we are targeting.” He said he and deputies have actually gone and told them they are buying large amounts of the drug. “They actually give us permission to come into their homes,” he said. “Most of the time, we find components (to make meth) right there. We’ve got cases that will be going to this term of the grand jury, a lot of thefts that are reported, people stealing stuff, going and selling it, get a little bit of money and run to the phone to see if they can buy some ephedrine so they can make a little bit of meth. “It’s a vicious cycle.” Published in The Messenger 1.28.10

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