Three people believed to have ties to a Mexican drug-trafficking organization appeared in court Monday afternoon, March 5, to face charges in one of the largest methamphetamine seizures in U.S. history.
Palo Alto police detectives discovered the drugs -- 750 pounds of methamphetamine -- worth $34 million on the street, while investigating stolen iPads at a San Jose apartment Thursday, March 1.
Alberto Rodriguez, 28, Carlos Aguilar, 25 and Liliana Lopez, 24, all of San Jose, were ordered held on $2 million bail each by Superior Court Judge Jerome Nadler.
All are charged with conspiracy to transport a controlled substance, manufacturing a controlled substance, possession for sale of a controlled substance, child endangerment, quantity enhancements, and a gang enhancement, as the investigation is believed to be tied to a Mexican drug-trafficking organization, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.
The three appeared in red jail jumpsuits and stood quietly as Nadler announced their bail. They are scheduled to appear in court for arraignment on March 13 after being assigned attorneys.
Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams, San Jose Police Department Chief Chris Moore, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Palo Alto Police Department Chief Dennis Burns announced the seizure Friday night, March 2.
Palo Alto police investigating a burglary tracked a stolen iPad through its GPS application and found it at an apartment located in the 4400 block of the Woods Drive in San Jose. Multiple items believed to be stolen from Palo Alto were recovered from the location, the agencies stated in a press release.
Police did not have a warrant to search the apartment for the iPad theft, but the apartment occupants gave police permission to enter, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Tomkins said. Detectives conducted a preliminary search of the residence for the stolen property and observed a large quantity of methamphetamine. Detectives contacted the San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for assistance, who subsequently contacted the DEA San Jose Resident Office, according to the joint-agency announcement.
A state search warrant was obtained for the location. As law enforcement began to conduct an initial search of the residence they found what they believed was a methamphetamine conversion laboratory, where methamphetamine was being converted to an "ice" or crystal form. Ice methamphetamine has the appearance that is often described as that of broken glass or shattered ice and is ingested by smoking. A DEA Clandestine Laboratory Team responded to the location for processing.
Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would handle all media inquiries due to the magnitude and complexity of the drug case, and the risk that disclosing information at this time would jeopardize the continuing investigation into the recovered Palo Alto items.
DEA spokesperson Special Agent Casey Rettig said the investigation is still in the preliminary stages. No charges have been filed so far in the Palo Alto burglary and iPad thefts, she said.
Tompkins said another press release could follow later this week. He said Palo Alto police investigators deserve commendations for their work in uncovering the drugs. Two of the officers were experienced in this type of case and knew what to look for, he said.
Rettig said, "A seizure of this magnitude is extremely rare."
Methamphetamine -- also called crank or speed -- is a potentially addictive drug that creates an intense euphoria or "rush" when snorted, smoked or injected, according to the National Institutes of Health.
It increases the release and blocks the re-uptake of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function, the National Institutes of Health website stated.
There are no estimates of how much meth is on the streets, according to Rettig.
"Recently, in the DEA San Francisco Division we have seen an increase in methamphetamine seizures," Rettig said.
Tomkins said that District Attorney Jeff Rosen has estimated about 100 pounds of methamphetamine is seized in the county annually.
Nationally, 2,067 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized in 2010, according to the DEA. Those seizures have risen steadily since 1986, when 234.5 kilograms were seized.
California in 2011 had 92 methamphetamine lab incidents, which included labs, dump sites, chemicals and equipment. The number is down from 185 incidents in 2010 and 789 incidents in 2004, according to DEA statistics.
The states with the largest number of lab incidents in 2011 were: Missouri, with 2,058; Indiana, 1,354; Tennessee, 1,130; and Kentucky, with 1,084, according to the DEA.
The DEA stripped approximately $17.7 billion in revenue from drug-trafficking organizations involving multiple drug types from fiscal years 2005 through March 2011, according to its website.