Ecstasy bust called one of county's largest
Police descriptions of a drug bust that occurred in Stockbridge range from "one of the largest in quite some time" to "staggering."
Officers with the Henry County Bureau of Police Services responded to Apt. 723 at the Carrington Ridge Apartments in Stockbridge early Thursday morning to investigate a shooting that happened there.
The victim of the shooting, 42-year-old Tyrone Thomas Jr. (who was at Henry Medical Center being treated for a gunshot wound to the leg) told officers that he had been robbed and shot at the apartment.
Upon responding to the scene to investigate the shooting, officers found evidence of illegal drugs. After obtaining a warrant, they searched the apartment and found two to three ounces of methamphetamine, two to three ounces of cocaine, an unspecified amount of marijuana and 30 lbs. of ecstasy powder.
The officers also found three pill presses, used for making the ecstasy powder into pill form for sale on the streets, and various substances used in manufacturing ecstasy pills. The search also turned up $1,000 in counterfeit money.
According to Henry County Lt. Michael Gaddis, the estimated street value of the drugs and related paraphernalia is around $10 million.
"It's one of the biggest (busts) we've had in quite some time," Gaddis said.
Sgt. Mark Amerman, a K-9 officer who helped to search the apartment, said, "That was a lot of dope ... It's a staggering amount."
Thomas was charged with manufacturing a Schedule I drug, trafficking methamphetamine, trafficking cocaine, felony possession of marijuana and second-degree forgery.
Gaddis said the investigation into the incident is continuing. He said he doesn't know at this point whether there will be more arrests in the case.
He also said police he couldn't say for certain where Thomas might have gotten such a large amount of ecstasy.
"Someone that deals in drugs (has) various places that he can get it. It could have come from anywhere," Gaddis said.
But according to Amerman, one of the main ways drugs come into Henry County is via Interstate 75. Running from south Florida (a major point of entry into the U.S. for illegal drugs) to Ontario and connecting to almost every major U.S. city via the interstate system, I-75 is something of a pipeline for drugs.
Amerman said some law enforcement officials estimate that 60 percent or more of the nation's illegal drug traffic passes through Atlanta.
Straddling I-75, Henry County plays unwitting host to much of that traffic.
According to statistics provided by Rich Lemmon, crime analyst for the Bureau of Police Services, in 2002 Bureau narcotics and K-9 units seized more than $2.5 million in illegal drugs.
Amerman said that many of the drugs seized by the K-9 unit came from I-75, which is where he and the Bureau's other K-9 officer, Mike Freeman, concentrate their patrols.
Amerman said he and Freeman find many of the drugs they seize after they stop cars on I-75 for unrelated traffic offenses and then notice signs of illegal drugs in the cars.
However, the K-9 unit was also called in to search the apartment Thursday morning. And the find they made then quadrupled in one day the value of drugs seized by the Bureau in all of last year.
"To have an operation that size over here, that's a good bust," Amerman said.
But he also said that ecstasy is becoming more and more popular in the metro area.
According to information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ecstasy is a synthetic drug with both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. The information also said that ecstasy has been linked to such side effects as brain damage and even, in high doses, cardiovascular failure.
Amerman said ecstasy is a popular drug of choice among high school and college students. NIDA said that while the use of ecstasy used to be most pronounced at "raves" and other all-night parties, current data indicates it has spread to a number of other social settings.
According to Amerman, an ecstasy-producing operation likely could be run in an apartment without attracting much notice. He said the process does not require noxious-smelling chemicals, as does manufacturing methamphetamine.
And, he said, the amount Thomas is accused of having indicates that this was a distributing operation, so there probably wouldn't have been a lot of individual traffic at the apartment.
"It's possible that the neighbors would never know," he said.
Representatives of Carrington Ridge, the complex where the bust was made, declined comment on the incident.
All the charges against Thomas are felonies, which carry maximum penalties of up to 20 years in prison. However, Amerman said that the methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking charges carry mandatory minimum sentences of 25 years in prison and a $3 million fine each.
Along with the ecstasy charge, he said, the charges against Thomas add up to a lengthy prison sentence if he's convicted.
"He's looking at some years," Gaddis said.
Thomas had his first appearance hearing in Henry County Magistrate Court on Friday. He waived a probable cause hearing on the charges, so the next step will be presentment of the case to a grand jury for possible indictment.
According to Gaddis, the shooting that prompted the discovery of the drugs is still under investigation.
A superior court judge will have to determine whether Thomas is eligible for bond. As of Friday afternoon, no date for a bond hearing had been set.