Longform

The New Boss

Page 6 of 7

Emergency room workers see the destruction meth causes on a daily basis.

Steve Stapczynski, chair of Emergency Medicine for Maricopa Integrated Health System, reports the prevalence of meth addiction at the county hospital.

"A 64-year-old woman came in recently with abscesses all over her body and her arms from dirty injections, these boils, these pockets of pus," Stapczynski says.

The addicts he sees are not using clean materials, he adds.

"What they inject hasn't been sterilized. And then they don't realize what's happening to them. They tend to ignore it because they're high on methamphetamine." As for the woman, "We cleaned her abscesses, and then she didn't want any treatment or help. Which is pretty common, because they don't want to get off the drug. It's used to the exclusion of everything else in their life. They're not making rational decisions."

Stapczynski continues, "We've had a patient or two come in with sexual hyperstimulation, someone who masturbates for days at a time. They get raw to the point that they just have to finally come in, or they get arrested for doing this in public. They'll come in and the skin [either the penis or vagina] will be broken and raw and foul-smelling from the bacteria down there. You walk into the room and get physically nauseous. It's like it destroys their sense of self-preservation.

"The other thing that is surprising is the number of times meth comes up in drug screens, whether it's for car accidents, or other types of injuries.

"We see that something just isn't right with that patient, and then the meth will show up. Its prevalence is amazing to us at times. People you wouldn't think [would be on it], and it will show up."

His conclusion: "It is placing an additional burden on the emergency room. It contributes to car accidents, pedestrian accidents, assaults and other violent crimes."

It also contributes to property crimes and identity theft.

In December 2002, Paul Waldman, 43, a photographer, left his Tempe apartment for a trip out of the country. Just the day after he left, his parents, who were watching the apartment, discovered Waldman's place "had been trashed."

A checkbook was gone; two bad checks had already been written. Two $100 savings bonds that his father gave him when he was a boy had been stolen. An autographed baseball, signed by Roberto Clemente, gone. Four antique cameras -- one belonged to his grandfather, another to his dad -- gone.

Police never caught the person who actually broke into Waldman's apartment, and three years later, Waldman's still dealing with credit card companies and other businesses that say he owes them money. The cops did catch Rodney (nicknamed "Robney") Richards, who wrote the bad checks, after a tweaker snitched on him, according to Matt Shay, a detective with the Phoenix Drug Enforcement Bureau.

According to Shay, Richards, 38, was a north Phoenix meth cook with several different storage lockers filled with stolen property, including several motorcycles, an ID-making machine (he used it to make fake Arizona driver's licenses) and equipment for three different meth labs. Shay says Richards had a team of about 20 burglars working for him.

Shay says Richards could have ended up in prison for life, after police linked him to 24 victims, but he got a reduced sentence of 10 years.

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.

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.

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Robert Nelson
Joe Watson