Meth Conspiracy

Top row, from left, are Shannon Stephens, Chance Ziegler and Sharon McGraw. Bottom row, from left, are Robert Swinney, Bodette Algiere and Richard Treis.

When Franklin County narcotics investigators started finding large amounts of cold pills at some meth lab scenes they launched an investigation that linked local meth cooks to gang members in St. Louis.

Gang members reportedly stood outside pharmacies and would pay people $20 to go inside and buy a $10 box of pills containing pseudoephedrine and tell them to keep the change. They then would sell the pills to meth cooks in Franklin and Jefferson counties for $50 to $80 a box.

That investigation culminated this week with federal grand jury indictments being issued against a ringleader of a St. Louis gang and six residents from Franklin and Jefferson counties.

Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, who heads up the Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit, said Detective Cpl. Scott Briggs launched the initial investigation and traced the unusual partnership to a St. Louis halfway house where inmates were housed after their release from federal prison on drug and weapon charges.

Briggs said the local task force began looking into the case in September 2011.

“We started seeing a big increase in the amount of labs and the size of the labs in the southern part of the county,” Briggs said. “We were able to track the pseudoephedrine purchases back to St. Louis and identified the source of the supplier.”

“It will put a dent in the larger meth labs we started seeing again,” Grellner said, “but it won’t with the small batch, one pot meth labs.”

Charged in the federal indictments are:

• Robert L. “Biz” Swinney, 22, St. Louis — conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine;

• Richard L. Treis, 38, Franklin County — one count of conspiracy to manufacture in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine, two counts of conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, and one count of possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine;

• Chance C. Ziegler, 35, St. Clair — one count of conspiracy to manufacture in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine, two counts of conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, and one count of possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine;

• Sharon S. McGraw, 56, formerly of Krakow and Arnold — one count of maintaining a drug involved premises, one count of conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and one count of possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine;

• Joseph R. McNamara, 26, Farmington — one count of conspiracy to manufacture in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine, two counts of conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, and one count of distribution of methamphetamine;

• Bodette O. Algiere, aka Bodette O. Inman, 32, St. Clair — one count of conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and one count of possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine; and

• Shannon M. Stephens, 26, Jefferson County and Franklin County — one count of conspiracy to manufacture in excess of 50 grams of methamphetamine, one count of conspiracy to possess pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, one count of possession of pseudoephedrine with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and one count of conspiracy to possess equipment with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine.

Major Targets

“Treis and Stephens were involved in multiple cases we were investigating. They were among the major targets in the county,” Briggs said.

“Over the six months of the investigation we were able to determine that Swinney was supplying the pseudoephedrine,” he told The Missourian.

Federal law restricts a person to the purchase of nine grams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period and 108 grams per year. Pharmacies are required to maintain logs of people who purchase the drugs.

The suspects in the investigation were able to skirt that by having multiple individuals purchase the legal amount of pseudoephedrine, Briggs noted.

Grellner said to legally purchase the amounts of pseudoephedrine involved in the investigation would have required 148 individuals purchasing legal amounts of cold pills.

He said when Swinney was arrested there was another male with him who just had been released on a federal weapons charge and a woman with him. Both had recently purchased pseudoephedrine pills.

“This is proof positive that the national tracking system has no effect on pseudoephedrine abuse or meth labs,” Grellner remarked. He continues to push for a statewide prescription law like that local passed in 62 communities.

The only places in this area where people aren’t required to have a prescription to buy cold pills are St. Louis City and County and Rolla, Grellner noted.

“We continue to see a huge spike in St. Louis County and city as meth cooks flock there to buy pseudoephedrine,” he commented.