Police find millions in meth hidden in child’s toys, soda cans

Ernesto Izaguirre, Juan C. Chavira-Guerrero, and Susana Escalante-Visinais

Methamphetamine has been a problem in Southeast Texas for many years, as evidenced by drug seizures across the area. Law enforcers say traffickers and abusers often disguise the illegal drugs in a variety of ways in an attempt to conceal them from officers, but Agent Tim Duriso from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) warns criminals there is nowhere safe. Officers are onto them.

Three Georgia residents making a trip from Mexico back to their home state learned that the hard way May 10. Officers with the Beaumont Police Department (BPD) reportedly discovered millions of dollars worth of liquid methamphetamine hidden inside soda cans and bouncing balls during a traffic stop on I-10 near 11th Street.

According to Sgt. James Cody Guedry, BPD officers stopped a red Chevrolet van for a traffic violation at close to 3 a.m. Tuesday. When conducting a search of the vehicle, investigators located 24.4 kilos, or nearly 54 pounds, of liquid methamphetamine concealed inside 12-ounce soda cans and several clear bouncing balls, a type of child’s toy.

Guedry said the investigation revealed the three occupants of the van were traveling from Mexico back to the state of Georgia.

The suspects were identified as Ernesto Izaguirre, 41; Juan C. Chavira-Guerrero, 37; and Susana Escalante-Visinais, 62, all of Georgia. The three were arrested and transported to the Jefferson County Jail for felony possession of a controlled substance.

“This type of narcotic can be detrimental to our society, and we are working with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Homeland Security & Immigration for future federal prosecution of this case,” Guedry said.

In another recent incident, Lumberton officers made their largest single meth bust ever after discovering more than 400 grams of methamphetamine during a traffic stop April 27.

Lumberton Police Chief Danny Sullins told The Examiner officers stopped a woman on Highway 96 in Lumberton. 

“The driver was acting nervous, so they asked for consent to search the vehicle,” said Sullins. “After receiving consent, they discovered 404 grams of methamphetamine, more than 30 grams of crack cocaine (in cookie form), 5 ounces of synthetic marijuana, 31 Xanax bars, and a handgun.”

Police arrested Jamisha Lashun Myers, 22, of Beaumont, formerly of Silsbee, on felony drug charges, misdemeanor drug charges and unlawfully carrying a weapon, Sullins reported. She was in Hardin County Jail on $156,000 in bonds after her arrest but has since made bond and been released. Sullins said she had no criminal history.

Myers tried to stash the drugs inside her purse, a common hiding place used for illegal drugs, said Sullins, but not a very good one.

According to the veteran law enforcer, people carrying illegal drugs will literally conceal them anywhere, even in body cavities and under clothes.

“We find it everywhere,” Sullins asserted. “In their butts, in their drawers. We recently found a woman with 14 grams of methamphetamine inside her brassiere at the jail. She had a warrant, and she was arrested. Officers found a little meth inside her purse. When she arrived at the jail, officers did an expanded search to make sure no contraband was coming into the jail.”

In another instance, said Sullins, a suspect attempted to disguise his drugs inside a soda can, just like the three suspects arrested in Beaumont on May 10.

“We saw one the other day that looked like a Coke can that hadn’t been opened,” Sullins recalled. “It looked just like a regular Coke can, and when you picked it up, it felt like one.”

But inside, officers didn’t find soda. They found crystal meth.

“If these criminals put as much effort into contributing to the community or getting a job as they do into hiding their drugs, they would be a lot more productive members of society,” said Sullins.

DEA Agent Duriso said in the May 10 bust in Beaumont, the drugs likely came from a “super lab” south of the border that produces huge quantities of methamphetamine rather than the few pounds manufactured in batches at small-scale labs.

“We see a lot of methamphetamine coming to the U.S. from across the border,” said Duriso. “We’re envisioning a big super lab in Mexico manufacturing the methamphetamine.”

Duriso said law enforcers have already discovered multiple super labs in Mexico. Manufacturers on the U.S. side of the border, however, often utilize small labs to make meth due to the overwhelming odor produced by the chemicals used to concoct the deadly drug. That is one way the labs are discovered – by scent. He said a super lab in a suburban neighborhood would be very unlikely because of the pungent stench it would emit.

“It’s the smell that gives it away,” he remarked. “There’s a very foul smell that goes along with methamphetamine production.”

As a DEA agent, Duriso has seen numerous attempts by criminals to conceal illegal drugs in a variety of ways.

“I’ve seen it hidden in tires, inside the frame of a vehicle, in the engine,” Duriso said of methamphetamine. “There are a number of places they try to hide it. They’re very creative when trying to conceal illegal narcotics and the proceeds from illegal narcotics.

“Some people put it inside something and swallow it. That’s very dangerous. If the container it’s in breaks, they will overdose.”

Duriso agreed with BPD’s estimate that the recent bust netted millions of dollars in meth. He said the fact that the methamphetamine was discovered in liquid form means the manufacturers must have moved it somewhere in the middle of the production process, prior to crystallizing it for distribution.

Liquid methamphetamine is uncommon, he said, but easier to conceal.

“It’s definitely easier to hide,” said Duriso. “They used soda cans, so that if anyone picked up the can it would feel like there was just soda in it. The things they imagine, they put into play.”

Duriso has seen drugs stowed in oil cans and soda cans, or containers disguised as soda cans that are sometimes marketed as mini-safes for valuables. He said DEA agents have discovered illegal drugs stashed inside baby bags, strollers, children’s car seats and even in children’s toys like dolls, teddy bears, and now, the bouncing balls from the May 10 stop.

“They try to create the appearance of an everyday object so law enforcement officers won’t look any further into it,” said Duriso, but “once you find something like that, it becomes routine to look for it. Law enforcement around here has been very successful in intercepting a lot of methamphetamine in this area – Orange, Beaumont, Port Arthur. Law enforcement officers in this area are doing an excellent job. All their experience and training is paying off, evident by all the large drug seizures we’ve seen lately.”

BPD Officer Tony Harding said criminals can try to conceal illegal drugs and other items, but officers have seen it all and know where to look.

“People attempt to hide narcotics in a variety of places,” Harding said. “Generally, the big time people get their vehicles outfitted with secret compartments. Others put it anywhere in their car – air vents, behind the radio, in the spare tire in the trunk, in the floor panel, pretty much any panel that you can snap on and off.”

He warns criminals that BPD officers aren’t fooled by drugs in disguise.

“We do our due diligence to find anything that should not be there,” he said. “We’re a pretty thorough bunch.”