The New Boss

Page 5 of 7

"The high-dollar stuff, like meth and cocaine, is coming in the high-dollar vehicles," Gill says. "It makes it hard to pick out the smugglers. Now, they're using [Mexican] doctors and lawyers and dentists to bring the stuff over. "

This world of high-dollar vehicles driven by mules with doctorates is a far cry from what's going on up the road in Phoenix, where, despite law enforcement's best efforts, meth labs have not been made extinct.

You don't necessarily need a big, high-tech Mexican lab to make good, clean meth.

You just need a "conversion lab," the latest in local meth-lab technology, in which dirty meth is cooked to make it purer.

But there is a reason you don't see many of those in American houses anymore.

Smarter drug traffickers have learned you don't cook where you live. They've also learned that you draw a lot of attention by blowing up a house in an American neighborhood.

Take the incident this summer at 3325 North 80th Lane in west Phoenix.

According to police reports, Sergio Carbajal, a 32-year-old Mexican national, was the only person in the Peoria house.

Also in the house was a freezer full of two five-gallon jugs containing some sort of extremely volatile fluid.

Apparently, the fluid was so unstable that when Carbajal either turned on a light or unplugged the freezer, the spark created triggered an explosion that literally blew the roof off the place.

Witnesses said the roof went up with a 60-foot plume of smoke and fire.

Shards of glass from windows were shot like bullets a football-field's length down the street.

Somehow, Carbajal survived the explosion, running from the house with his entire body ablaze. He ran to a garden hose and put out the flames engulfing his body before collapsing on a neighbor's yard.

When police and firefighters arrived at the scene, they noticed what appeared to be a latex glove lying in the front yard. As they got closer, they realized it was no glove at all.

It was the skin from Carbajal's right hand -- his fingernails still intact.

That was June 22. Carbajal is still hanging on for his life in a drug-induced coma at the Maricopa County Burn Unit, where his wife apparently paid him a visit. According to Phoenix Police Detective Travis Bird, the lead investigator in the case, she didn't believe the body in the bed was that of Sergio Carbajal. There was nothing left of him she recognized.

"His family never made an effort to contact me," Bird says. "I don't think they want to contact me. They know what happened. They know why he was here."

The meth trade is thick with ghoulish Sergio Carbajal-like stories.

Which leads to the conclusion that it's better to let the professionals in Sinaloa do the serious cooking.

Even if you don't have your hand directly in the meth pot, you can get burned. The cost of meth addiction to innocent bystanders is high, and it's growing every day.

Almost all child endangerment cases in the Valley are now meth-related, says the Arizona Attorney General's Office. One state worker, who asked not to be identified because of the secrecy associated with cases involving Child Protective Services, describes a grim situation, multiplied by the dozens:

Not long ago, police raided a meth house (rather, a double-wide trailer), and removed the children -- four under 8 years of age. The children were covered in meth residue. Their toys and clothing had to be thrown out. The oldest hadn't been going to school; none of the kids had been bathed in at least a week. The chemicals used to cook the meth were right outside the window.

The state worker knows of malnourished babies, covered in insects and insect bites. She continues: "Dirty diapers on the floor, rotting food on the floor, no clean and safe food for children to eat. If there are pets, frequently pet waste is around. There may be weapons around, because some meth houses have some pretty interesting security systems."

The big joke is that meth makes you want to clean the house, but this woman says she's never seen a clean meth house. Meth is used as a weight-loss drug, she says, and jokes, "Our internal belief is that it's also a fertility drug." Meth won't increase fertility, but it will lower inhibitions -- and that leads to so-called "meth babies," taken into state custody all the time.

Domestic violence shelter professionals report that meth use is spreading among both abusers and victims. It is almost always associated with cases of identity theft, and increasingly with property crimes.

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Robert Nelson
Joe Watson