Ga. police seize meth worth $44.6M from house

Investigators have seized hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $44.6 million in suburban Atlanta, one of the biggest meth seizures in the country, authorities said Tuesday.

Investigators said the raid was conducted late Monday at a house in Norcross, just north of Atlanta, after authorities were told a large amount of meth was being produced there. They reported finding 150 pounds of crystal methamphetamine ready for sale and 200 gallons of liquid methamphetamine oil in a large drug lab.

"This would feed hundreds and hundreds of addicts and destroy who knows how many lives, countless lives," said Rodney Benson with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's field office in Atlanta.

No one was in the home at the time of the raid, police said.

Authorities said they suspect a Mexican-based drug trafficking organization in the drugmaking operation, but added investigators have not determined what group was responsible.

Investigators said they arrested 33-year-old Jose Galvez-Vela of Weslaco, Texas, and charged him with trafficking in meth. Police didn't say exactly where he was arrested and didn't know if he had a lawyer. Authorities said they are seeking others following the raid in Norcross, in the northern Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County.

The discovery underscored a growing trend of Mexican drug trafficking organizations smuggling methamphetamine in liquid form across the border with the United States to be converted into a crystal form for sale, Benson said. The liquid can be converted to crystal form within 48 hours, he added.

Investigators in hazmat suits used extreme caution as they removed the meth and highly flammable drugmaking chemicals from the house. It didn't appear that anyone was living in the house and that it was used strictly for manufacturing meth, police said.

The house was "really a powder keg, ready to blow at any time," Benson said. "Clearly removing that threat from that house is clearly making that neighborhood much safer today."

The house is set in a quiet, low- to middle-income subdivision, Gwinnett police Cpl. Edwin Ritter said.

Benson said the lab's location was typical of Mexican drug organizations known to operate sophisticated networks from nondescript houses in suburban Atlanta for distribution along the East Coast.

Investigators said they were following several leads to others allegedly involved but declined further comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

Citing the size of the drug lab and the hazardous chemicals involved, police said they requested help from the DEA and a hazardous materials team with a local fire department.