Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized more than 2,200 pounds of methamphetamine earlier this month, the largest haul in the agency's history domestically, according to officials.
"That's a significant amount of meth," Timothy Shea, the DEA's acting administrator, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The drugs were seized at an alleged stash house east of Los Angeles in Perris, California, on October 2. Besides the meth, the DEA found more than 880 pounds of cocaine. The drugs were found packed inside 25 duffel bags and ready for distribution, according to authorities.
The seizure was part of the DEA's ongoing initiative "Operation Crystal Shield," which is targeting cities where meth is often trafficked in bulk.
The cartel connection
Bill Bodner, DEA special agent in charge for the Los Angeles field division, said the suspects at the Perris stash house are likely big players with the cartels.
"Someone who's responsible for this quantity of drugs is someone who is very, very trusted by the cartels," Bodner said. "A low level operative would not be trusted to hold $18 million of drugs in a house. It just wouldn't happen. So these are high-level individuals."
Shea said that the capture of the drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, interrupted the Sinaloa Cartel's operations, making room for rival Jalisco Cartel to rise and clash.
"The concern there is that they are very violent and they're very aggressive and they are largely responsible for much of the meth in this country," said Shea.
Officials have detained suspects and will continue to make arrests as the investigation continues. So far, they have not filed charges.
Meth hidden in medical supplies
During the press conference, Shea mentioned last week's second-largest border seizure of meth in which federal agents confiscated more than 3,000 pounds of meth, heroin, fentanyl powder, and pills laced with fentanyl.
"These two seizures are more than enough to provide a dose of meth, for every man, woman, and child in the United States and Mexico. That's worth repeating. This is enough dope to provide a dose of meth for every man, woman and child in the United States and Mexico," Shea said. "It's a massive amount."
The drugs in that bust were seized at the Otay Mesa port of entry to San Diego. They were discovered hidden in a truck delivering medical supplies from Mexico.
In that case, the driver, a 47-year-old Mexican citizen, was arrested and turned over to a joint federal agency investigative team, according to a US Customs and Border Protection statement.
A rise in meth abuse
"These seizures are significant not just because of the sheer volume, but because it's a sign of a deeply concerning trend meth is pouring into the United States through our southern border and is destroying too many communities and more importantly, too many lives," said Shea.
Between the fiscal years 2017-2019, DEA domestic seizures of meth increased 127% from 49,507 pounds to 112,146 pounds, according to the DEA. During the same time frame, the number of DEA arrests related to meth rose nearly 20%.
During the press conference, Shea pointed to the pandemic for the rise in drug use and overdoses.
"You know it's a tough time for everybody, he said. "And you know some people turn to drugs to deal with that."
He added that treatment options for addicts and people struggling have been limited due to restrictions in place because of the coronavirus.
Operation Crystal Shield
Los Angeles, one of nine cities targeted by Operation Crystal Shield, is a hub for drug traffickers because of the proximity to numerous freeways and airports. The DEA's focus is to interrupt the drug transportation chain in the cities that account for 75% distribution of all meth distributed in the country, Shea said.
Last month, Attorney General William Barr and Shea announced that in six months of the operation, agents seized more than 28,000 pounds of meth, $43.3 million in drug proceeds and 284 firearms.