No court date has been set for two men held on $1 million bonds after Alabama authorities from Madison and DeKalb counties allegedly found 24 pounds of suspected ice, a particularly potent form of methamphetamine, in a vehicle search near Fort Payne.
Federal officials say the seizure could be a sign that meth is resurging in some Southern states.
The arrests last week stem from a six-month probe into drug trafficking in North Alabama by the Madison County Sheriff's Office Narcotics/Criminal Interdiction Unit, Jackson County Sheriff's Office and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, officials said.
Last week, the operation led to the arrest of Anthony Guthrie, 50, of Scottsboro, and David Jose Topete, 49, of Tijuana, Mexico, in DeKalb County on charges of trafficking meth, according to the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office.
"The Madison County Sheriff's Office had been conducting an operation on somebody in their area," DeKalb County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tyler Pruett said. Madison County authorities linked parts of their investigation to DeKalb County and alerted authorities there, he said.
Guthrie was the man allegedly leaving Fort Payne in the vehicle officers stopped on Alabama Highway 35 around 4 p.m. CDT Sept. 5, Pruett said. The stop was part of a in a multi-jurisdictional operation. A search by a DeKalb County K9 pinned suspicions on the rear of the car, where authorities found a cooler packed with 24 pounds of the suspected drug, he said.
Guthrie was taken into custody at the scene and Topete was arrested nearby at a hotel in Fort Payne "in connection to the narcotics," Pruett said.
"Twenty-four pounds is a huge, huge amount," Pruett said. "I don't want to say that this is the largest amount we've ever seized around here, because I'm not 100% sure, but it's definitely one of the largest amounts."
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is taking a keen interest, agency spokeswoman Debbie Webber said Tuesday.
"DEA is probably going to end up adopting the case, but that is ultimately up to the U.S. Attorney's Office," Webber said.
Even for the DEA, 24 pounds is "a significant seizure," she said. Webber works out of the New Orleans field division of the DEA that covers Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.
"We don't see that every day in that area of the country," she said. "We are definitely seeing meth resurging in our four-state region."
DeKalb County Sheriff Nick Welden said his officers "were thrilled to be a part of this operation and take such a large amount of methamphetamine off the streets. [Twenty-four] pounds of this poison is enough to get a lot of people hooked and destroy a lot of lives."
Welden estimated the street value of the drug at as much as $150,000 "and we have reason to believe it was to be distributed in our area," he said. The sheriff praised the work of the ALEA and officials in Madison and Jackson counties.
"Ice is Mexican meth and it's called that because it's pure, it's crystals, it looks like ice," said DEA spokesman Kevin McWilliams, who works out of the agency's Louisville, Kentucky, office. McWilliams said he wasn't sure the purer form of meth is more dangerous, but it's certainly no safer.
"If you look at the list of ingredients that go into meth, every one is noxious, combustible, poisonous," he said.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.