Police in Lancaster and Chester counties have swept up three dozen alleged area drug dealers and methamphetamine producers and cookers after a yearlong undercover operation dubbed “Fantastic Shakers,” police announced Thursday.
Officers from the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Chester County Sheriff’s Office, and state drug agents cooperated to “put a huge dent” in the meth production and dealing trade that has plagued the area in recent years, said Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile.
Of the 37 indicted by the state grand jury Thursday as part of the drug ring, 36 have been arrested and jailed, police said.
Most of those indicted are Lancaster County residents while a handful of others reside in Chester, York and Kershaw counties.
The drug making and dealing of what is called “crank” or “meth” crossed county lines as many of those involved in the scheme to dominate the meth market locally would try to buy materials in neighboring counties to avoid law enforcement detection, police said.
Many of the 37 people from area counties were charged with felony trafficking of more than a half kilogram of meth that can carry sentences as long as 30 years in prison. Some of the indictments in the case allege the orchestrated plot has been going on for more than two years.
“I think this is a huge success for Lancaster and Chester counties,” Faile said. “Anytime you can get 30 people selling methamphetamine off the street, it will make a huge impact.”
The operation was dubbed “Fantastic Shakers” because meth is made partly by shaking up over-the-counter chemicals that when combined are sold on the black market as exotic stimulants that can have deadly side effects.
Charges range from possession to trafficking and include men and women ranging in age from early 20s to people in their 50s.
One of the people indicted is Nicole Edwards, 23, of Rock Hill. Edwards was one of five people arrested in May after Lancaster County drug agents found a methamphetamine lab in Lancaster near Starcliff Circle.
Methamphetamine distribution and production has been a growing problem in South Carolina over the past few years, said both Faile and Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood at a news conference Thursday announcing the arrests.
Arrests in drug crimes can lead to reduced numbers of burglaries, larcenies, and other crimes, Faile said.
Defendants from areas near Lancaster County’s borders – including seven from Chester County near the Catawba River – also face multiple felonies.
Underwood, the Chester County sheriff, vowed to “keep drugs off our streets” at the news conference and the partnership will continue among agencies to destroy the meth trade.
Most meth supplies can be bought legally, but the production, possession and use of the combined drug is illegal.
One group of people in the drug plot would buy supplies and others would cook the drugs in home labs, police said.
Some of those arrested would “jump from county to county” to try to keep a low profile from law enforcement, said Capt. Frank O’Neal of the State Law Enforcement Division. A second group would cook at a rotation of houses in Lancaster, Chester and neighboring counties, O’Neal said.
Some of the people charged are accused of crimes related to the improper and illegal disposal of the waste products from the labs.
The result was a potential child endangerment and environmental calamity, O’Neal said, as meth labs leave behind dangerous chemicals and are prone to explosions.
The methamphetamine dump sites left uncovered by the suspects “deplete our water, and the children (can be) exposed to these meth labs,” O’Neal said.
The scheme involved local production and distribution and is not believed to be connected to a larger meth distribution problem in the state with ties to the southwest and Mexico.
More than 1,700 methamphetamine labs have been found across the state since July 2011, including dozens in York County and a growing number in Chester and Lancaster counties, police said.
Herald columnist Andrew Dys contributed