The New Boss

Police have shut down most of the meth labs in Phoenix, but now the drug is a big import from Mexico -- cheap, pure and more plentiful than ever

Waldman is still angry. He never got any of his possessions back. The only things the police recovered were the two savings bonds, which are still in police evidence. He'll get them eventually.

"They've become a different kind of item to me," Waldman says of the bonds. "It's weird. I know they'll appreciate over time, and at some point I'll give them to my 2-year-old son. But, to me, they've become this item of loss."

A lot of other people were at a loss after "Cindy" and her friends got done with them.

Phoenix police book suspected meth cook Daniel Watkins outside his home, where cops seized two ounces of crystal and the makings of a small-time meth lab.
Peter Scanlon
Phoenix police book suspected meth cook Daniel Watkins outside his home, where cops seized two ounces of crystal and the makings of a small-time meth lab.
Mexican nationals at a Nogales port of entry wait for their vehicles to pass inspections by U.S. border officers. More than 1,200 pounds of meth have been seized at the Mexico-Arizona border so far this year.
Joe Watson
Mexican nationals at a Nogales port of entry wait for their vehicles to pass inspections by U.S. border officers. More than 1,200 pounds of meth have been seized at the Mexico-Arizona border so far this year.

Details

Dan Drake from the U.S. Attorney's Office offered Cindy's story as an example of a meth-related identity theft, but only under the condition of anonymity because she's "cleaned up her act," he says. Her story draws parallels to Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Catch Me If You Can.

Cindy was busted in 2003 for identity theft. She served just six months, and is now on probation. In the summer of 2003, Cindy and her then-boyfriend were doing an average of a gram a day of meth each, a habit that cost $500 to $700 a week. They fueled the habit via a small team of people who stole mail all over the Valley. Bank statements, bills or credit cards would earn a team member a few dollars or some meth.

Then Cindy and her boyfriend would get to work.

"Everything you need [to commit identity theft] you can get from the Internet, whether it's bank information or somebody's date of birth," Cindy says. "It's a lot easier than people think. People are afraid to give out their social security number, so we [would] try to get their date of birth. Well, it's much easier to get your birth date. And those cluster mailboxes in neighborhoods are a joke. All you need is a crowbar."

She adds, "After a while, it was a thrill just to commit the crime. I was getting off on the actual crime before I was even getting the cash to go out and buy more dope."

Now she works with law enforcement officials like Dan Drake, helping them unravel other identity-theft cases.

"I think the guy in Catch Me If You Can was a lot better than I was," she says. "And he probably wasn't all doped up, either."


The meth pipeline from Mexico ends in Phoenix at places like Rosemonte Drive, a quiet street near I-17 in north Phoenix that runs up to the gates of North Canyon High School.

Police have visited the home at 1944 East Rosemonte Drive 82 times in the past three years.

The reports detail everything from fights to burglaries, fires, trespassing, missing persons, domestic violence, shots fired, and forgery complaints.

The grass is green on Rosemonte, with the exception of Joel Bartak's house. In the front yard of the two-story home, wilted shrubs and brown patches of grass lie unkempt. The stained blinds, slightly drawn in a second-story bedroom window, appear to have melted.

The pink stucco is chipped and blotched with blue paint in some spots. Dozens of cigarette butts litter the front porch. A broken window on the side of the house is boarded up with plywood.

Since September 2000, at least 17 people have been arrested at the address, including Bartak. Police suspect that Bartak, who could not be reached for comment, is involved with the Aryan Brotherhood since he's been renting his house to white-power skinheads for the past several years.

The house saw its most illustrious bust with the meth-related arrest of Brotherhood kingpin Robert "Chicago Bob" Ryberg in July of last year.

This year alone, according to Shay, the Phoenix Drug Enforcement Bureau detective, there have been three search warrants served there for possession of meth for sale and identity theft. Police have investigated reports of stolen property, recovered a stolen vehicle, and answered an aggravated-assault call ("Joel got beat up by one of the Aryans," Shay says) -- just since January.

It's no wonder the woman who answers the door across the street from Bartak's house won't let her kids play in the front yard anymore.

"If I would've known about that house before we got here," says the woman, who doesn't want to be identified, as her two kids stand beside her behind a screen door, "we never would have moved in here."

Other neighbors, including Jannah Heisey, who's lived in the neighborhood about three years in a house about 100 feet down the block from Bartak's, echo the sentiment.

"I've certainly considered moving," Heisey says, as her 18-year-old son, Sean, plays a first-person shooter game on the home computer. "We probably will sometime in the next year.

"It's a shame, really, because this is such a beautiful neighborhood."

Heisey says she's caught a skinhead digging through her trash late at night, "probably trying to commit identity theft." That was the last time she called the cops. "Now," she says, "all the neighbors are buying paper shredders."

Those who've stayed, at least.

Heisey says that at least four homeowners on Rosemonte have sold in just the past month. Two other houses are currently for sale.

According to Shay, Bartak's been served notice that he must clean up the property and bring the building up to code. If Bartak doesn't tidy up a bit, then the county can, and will, seize the property, and shut down the meth operation on Rosemonte Drive for good, Shay says.

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