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Orange County | Dana Parsons

What's Behind Doors No. 1 and 2?

September 12, 2003|Dana Parsons

A log cabin deep in the woods, sure.

A dilapidated farmhouse with a weather-beaten barn, yeah.

A nondescript stucco house in the city, with a Doberman out front.

Those are the kinds of places where you're supposed to find methamphetamine labs.

You're not supposed to find them in custom-built dream homes with a view of the Pacific and within hailing distance of a world-class hotel.

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

Orange County sheriff's deputies were congratulating themselves Thursday for shutting down what they called a fledgling "super lab" that had already produced at least $1 million worth of meth.

They got lucky while doing some routine police work and hit the jackpot inside a sprawling villa in Laguna Niguel. Deputies say they confiscated drugs and drug-related equipment and arrested four people in connection with the alleged operation.

When the Orange County Chamber of Commerce talks about business opportunities in our idyllic paradise by the sea, this isn't what it means.

Yet isn't there something perversely entertaining about a meth lab in a neighborhood more known for golf club memberships and diversified portfolios?

It's not that our fine citizens are above using the stuff. To the contrary, I have no doubt our affluent suburbanites are as suburban as any in the country. It's just that you'd think they'd have the sense to let someone else make it.

Seems a bit declasse, don't you think?

Sheriff's Department spokesman Jim Amormino has been around the block a few too many times to be surprised by crime. Before coming to work in Orange County six years ago, he spent 26 years with LAPD.

In fact, Amormino says he's constantly amazed at how low the crime rate is in the areas patrolled by deputies, especially south Orange County. He admits, then, to having had a surprising week.

Besides the discovery of the alleged super lab in Laguna Niguel, deputies last week arrested a Rancho Santa Margarita couple in connection with a child-molestation investigation. Authorities say they confiscated more than 100 homemade videos in the couple's home and allege that tapes viewed so far depicted sex acts involving children.

Amormino described the videos, with at least one involving an infant, as "totally disgusting. You think you've see it all," Amormino says, "then something like that comes along."

Against a backdrop that repugnant, a meth lab is almost comic relief.

Cops can't say stuff like that, so Amormino says only that it was "somewhat shocking" to find a sophisticated drug operation in such fancy digs.

"Usually, the people who live in those affluent homes don't necessarily have to do that to pay the mortgage, let's say," he notes.

Amormino hastens to add that investigators theorize that the owners of the house -- a well-heeled couple in the midst of a divorce and who haven't been living in the house -- have nothing to do with the alleged drug operation. Rather, authorities say, one of the suspects is the couple's 22-year-old daughter, who had been living in the home.

I suppose we can chalk up the last week or so as an aberration in South County. It's not in danger of becoming the crime capital of Southern California, but -- if only in our metaphors -- it makes us wonder anew about what's going on in our gated communities.

Or, as Amormino told another Times reporter this week: "It goes to show that you never know what goes on next door."

*

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821, at dana.parsons@latimes.com or at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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