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24 Are Arrested in L.A., Houston as Part of Crackdown on PCP

August 27, 2003|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

The largest PCP crackdown in recent U.S. history was announced Tuesday with the arrests of 24 people in Los Angeles and Houston on federal charges of conspiracy to manufacture and sell the potent hallucinogen known as angel dust.

In all, authorities said, federal and local drug agents seized enough chemicals and laboratory materials to produce, on an ongoing basis, at least 300 gallons of PCP. The street value of each gallon was estimated at $10,000 in Los Angeles, the nation's capital of PCP production, and as much as $30,000 a gallon on the East Coast.

"This is a significant event," said Steven Woodland, acting assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles. "In Southern California, we have identified 10 to 15 organizations producing PCP. Today, in one operation, we took out about a third of them."

Ray Tripicchio, executive director of the Southern California Drug Task Force, alleged that the individuals arrested -- and another dozen people still being sought -- were responsible for the distribution of PCP throughout the nation.

"These individuals are violent career criminals who have extensive criminal records for narcotics trafficking, assault and other violent crimes," Tripicchio said at a news conference. One of those arrested in the drug investigation is the suspect in a Los Angeles homicide.

"In addition to the violence of many of the PCP manufacturers," Tripicchio said, the manufacturing of the drug endangers neighborhoods where labs are.

The chemicals used to produce the hallucinogen include highly flammable ether, sodium cyanide and phenyl magnesium bromide, which, he said, reacts violently when combined with water.

"PCP manufacturers often store large quantities of these dangerous chemicals in residential neighborhoods without regard to the safety and welfare of their neighbors," Tripicchio said, noting that drug manufacturers also dump dangerous residue.

"Innocent people exposed to these chemical dumps could possibly be seriously injured due to inhalation of the chemical fumes," he said.

In addition to the arrests, authorities in Los Angeles seized about 10 gallons of finished PCP, two PCP laboratories, half a dozen guns and rifles, vehicles, and $125,000 in cash and other assets.

The criminal charges announced Tuesday represent the latest chapter in an ongoing investigation by the Southern California Drug Task Force, which includes about 100 law enforcement officers from 20 agencies. Other agencies taking part in the arrests included the DEA, FBI, LAPD, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, and Ontario, Gardena and Inglewood police.

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