$17M Three-State Meth Operation Uncovered in South

Law enforcement authorities used a statewide database that tracks purchases of ingredients for methamphetamine to uncover what they contend is a $17 million multistate drug operation.

A federal grand jury in Chattanooga returned indictments Tuesday against 45 people from Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama in a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute over 375 pounds of meth.

Authorities said Donald Henson, 38, of Bridgeport, Ala., led the drug ring that directed co-defendants to travel through the Southeast to purchase equipment, chemicals and other materials in order to skirt state and federal chemical purchasing laws.

Henson either cooked the meth himself or contracted with others and the meth was then distributed throughout southeast Tennessee, north Georgia and north Alabama.

"This investigation is one example of how law enforcement agencies are joining together to wipe out the methamphetamine problem in our communities," said U.S. Attorney Russ Dedrick.

The Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force records purchases of pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in a number of over-the-counter cold medicines.

Over the past two years, authorities said the drug operation purchased more than 80 pounds of pseudoephedrine, an essential precursor chemical in meth. Additionally, 78 pounds of iodine, more than 100 pounds of red phosphorous and more than 37 gallons of liquid red phosphorous were purchased.

The organizations used businesses, including five Discount Express Stores in Huntsville, Ala., to make large purchases of the ingredients. These businesses hid their sale of the ingredients or used other strategies to avoid law enforcement attention or violations of state laws, according to a news release.

Officials estimated that the quantity of meth produced could have supplied approximately 1.7 million people with individual doses of 0.1 grams.

About half the 45 individuals were arrested Wednesday, including eight from Marion County, about 30 miles west of Chattanooga. Another ten people from Alabama were arrested Wednesday, including Henson.

The Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission led the investigation that also included assistance from numerous local agencies.