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13 indicted as federal probe targets meth-making ring in Southern Tier

A methamphetamine ring that relied on portable, clandestine labs small enough to fit into a car, or even a backpack, has been dismantled, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The operation they shut down serviced meth users across the Southern Tier and had been up and running for at least four years, prosecutors said.

A federal grand jury indicted 13 people, all of them Southern Tier residents, in connection with the alleged meth ring.

“It’s not just out in the rural cabin in the woods,” Allegany County District Attorney Keith A. Slep said of the labs that were identified and dismantled.

Authorities said the case is significant not only for the size of its operation, but for what it reveals about current meth manufacturers.

Unlike years past when meth-making required large labs, manufacturers today can manufacture the stimulant in something as small as an empty 2-liter bottle of soda, investigators say.

“You can have a lab anywhere,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Duszkiewicz. Investigators say the case also reflects the increase they’re seeing in the number of meth labs across the region.

Michelle Y. Spahn, resident agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Buffalo, said the proliferation of labs is due in part to the ease with which meth-makers can now set up shop.

“We’ve even found portable meth labs in backpacks,” she said.

Spahn said a lot of manufacturers are now using the “one-pot method” of making meth in a single portable container.

Prosecutors say the defendants worked together to distribute meth across the Southern Tier and relied on “smurfers,” who purchase small quantities of pseudoephedrine from local pharmacies, gathering enough to make meth. Ephedrine is a common ingredient in cold medicine and the most important ingredient in meth.

The indictments charge the 13 defendants with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute meth. Conviction of the charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Charged in the indictments, authorities said, are:

Justin L. Billings, 32, of Wellsville; Timothy J. Billings, 30, of Wellsville; Zackery D. Billings, 25, of Springwater; Lionel C. Carter, 58, of Wellsville; Patrick J. Danielewicz, 34, of Friendship.

Jordan R. Doane, 26, of Friendship; Derek Fagan, 30, of Wellsville; Sarah J. Greene, 37, of Wellsville; Michael E. Hasert, 60, of Scio; Bradley J. Hollenbeck, 34, of Andover.

Michael C. Mullen, 34, of Hornell; Elizabeth J. Schreiber, 35, of Scio; and Todd E. Varney, 31, of Wellsville.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com