An alleged multimillion-dollar, family-run methamphetamine drug ring based in North County was broken Thursday with the arrest of 11 people by the FBI, culminating what authorities said was a six-year investigation.
Among those apprehended was Don Mason, 49, of San Marcos, who the FBI described as the "senior leader" of the family. Taken into custody were several members of his family--including his wife and three sons--and others related by marriage, FBI spokesman Jim Bolenbach said.
"We know they were able to cook 100 pounds of methamphetamines in one batch," Bolenbach said. "To put that into perspective, a quarter-gram is the smallest unit sold on the street. One hundred pounds can produce 183,000 quarter-grams. And they bragged that they cook 800 pounds at a time." A quarter-gram on the street costs about $30.
$1 Million Confiscated
Although no methamphetamine manufacturing equipment was found, agents confiscated $1 million in cash; undetermined quantities of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, and several automatic weapons, Bolenbach said.
Also seized were the Mason family's two Escondido businesses, Del Dios Auto Dismantlers and Don's Freeway Auto Painting; Don Mason's San Marcos home; more than 30 vehicles, and an 11 1/2-acre tract of land owned by one of Mason's sons.
"The businesses were seized because they were used in the production-distribution scheme, and/or money was laundered through them," said Tom Hughes, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Diego office.
Authorities executed search warrants on 12 safety deposit boxes belonging to the Masons, and officials said they expect to confiscate more cash.
Those arrested were taken into custody on suspicion of engaging in the large-scale production and distribution of methamphetamine, more commonly known as "speed."
FBI agents also said they could only hint at the scope of the ring because affidavits dealing with specifics of the case are under court seal.
Bolenbach noted that six years is an unusually long time to carry out an investigation, but he said it was necessary to get the "whole picture."
Get 'Bulk of Group'
"We could have struck earlier and gotten fewer arrests on lesser charges, but you have to be able to wait to get the bulk of the group," Bolenbach said. "In the past we were criticized for just arresting the street punks who deal drugs and not catching the higher-ups who were responsible."
He said that was avoided this time, and that the six years was spent "collecting a tremendous data base, identifying participants and doing undercover work."
Also participating in the investigation was the San Diego Narcotics Task Force, a federally funded organization that includes representatives from the California Highway Patrol, Escondido police, the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Customs.
Besides Don Mason, those arrested included his wife, Joyce, 47, and his three sons, Richard, 23, and Robert, 26, both of Escondido, and Ronald, 25, of Valley Center. Also taken into custody was Ronald's wife, Rebecca, 20.
The arrests also included Joyce Mason's sons from a previous marriage--Samuel Perez, 20; Richard Perez, 30, and Benjamin Perez, 24, all of Escondido.
Also arrested were Jody Jester, 49, of Valley Center, and Salvador Vera, age unknown, of Escondido. Vera is the manager of Del Dios Auto Dismantlers.
Police said the family's operations spanned a 10-mile radius centered on Escondido.
The 11 suspects were to be held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center until arraignment this morning, Bolenbach said.