Details of Tilton meth bust emerge during court hearings
James Joyce Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
The Dec. 12 methamphetamine bust at a Tilton home was the result of a 21∕2-month investigation by local and federal authorities that included surveillance on the house and monitoring pseudoephedrine purchases of the residents and frequent guests.
Details of the investigation came to light yesterday during probable cause hearings at Franklin’s district court for several of the people arrested in the bust. Tilton police Officer Nate Buffington testified against three of the six suspects. Buffington is also certified by the DEA to participate in raids of clandestine, or illegal, laboratories. He testified in court against James Joyce, charged with possession of a controlled drug, intent to distribute and manufacturer of a controlled drug; Hon Luu, charged with criminal liability for the conduct of another and conspiracy to manufacture a controlled drug; and Debra Miller, charged with criminal liability for the conduct of another, conspiracy to manufacture and endangering the welfare of a child. Her 3-year-old son was in the same room as the meth lab during the raid.
The police first received tips in May that methamphetamine was being used and possibly sold at 263 Laconia Road in Tilton, and an official investigation began in October, Buffington said in court. Over the next few months, authorities developed a list of the residents’ names, as well as a list of people who frequently visited the house. Marie Chacon, one of the suspects, owned the house, and the other five resided there full time or were frequent visitors, Buffington said.
Beginning in October, the police began monitoring pseudoephedrine purchases of those people and found several of them were making frequent purchases at different area pharmacies. Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in over-the-counter decongestants such as Sudafed and is a key ingredient in the production of meth. In 2005, a law was enacted regulating the amount of pseudoephedrine an individual can purchase within a specific period, but pharmacies don’t share that information, Buffington said. The process of traveling to different pharmacies to avoid the law and purchase pseudoephedrine for meth production is called “smurfing,” he said.
Between Oct. 5 and Dec. 5, Luu allegedly purchased pseudoephedrine six times from four pharmacies. Most of those times he purchased 2.4 grams, or a box of 48 pills, which is an extremely high amount to purchase over two months, Buffington said.
“Just monitoring the laws, that would jump off the paper,” he said.
The police applied for a search warrant of 263 Laconia Road and any vehicles on the property in early December. On Dec. 12 officers from the Tilton Police Department, the state bomb squad, the fire marshal’s office and the DEA clandestine lab team met for a briefing. Buffington was conducting surveillance at the house about 7 p.m., he said, when he noticed the upstairs lights were on and the window was wide open – two signs, according to the tipsters, that the occupants were cooking meth, he said.
At 8 p.m., the officers executed the search warrant. Buffington was the first to enter after knocking on the door and announcing his presence, he said. He found Luu sitting on the first-floor couch and Miller coming up from the basement after changing a load of laundry.
Upstairs, officers found Chacon, Michael Caissie and Miller’s 3-year-old son sitting in a small bedroom with a one-pot meth cooker wrapped in a heating pad on a small table next to the bed. Chacon was about two feet away from the cooker, and the child was only about four feet away, Buffington said. Production of meth emits dangerous chemicals and gases and is highly volatile. Every officer who entered the home was wearing a sensor to detect ammonia and other gases, and “as soon as officers got to the top of the stairs these sensors started going crazy beeping,” Buffington said.
There was a black sheet draped over one wall, and behind that sheet was a door shut with two locks. The police entered that room, a small closet made into a bedroom, and found Joyce, Gabrielle Dandeneah and James Dragon attempting to throw meth production equipment out the window, Buffington said. He did not witness the upstairs actions directly but said other officers described the scene to him.
The materials in the small closet included a hydrogen chloride gas generator and a large bag that included “every component necessary for manufacturing meth,” Buffington said. Several small baggies, called “bindles,” full of a white powder were also in the room. In the master bedroom, where the officers found the one-pot meth cooker, they also turned up several pipes used to smoke meth and more baggies of white powder. The police said they believed the baggies indicated intent to sell the drug.
When all of the suspects and the child were out of the house, the state police bomb squad removed the lab and neutralized it outside of the house. All of the adults were taken to jail, and the child was sent to the hospital for medical testing and released into protective custody, Buffington said.
Buffington testified that Miller, the mother of the child, confessed to her involvement and the actions of several others following the arrests. She said she purchased pseudoephedrine to give to Joyce for the purpose of manufacturing meth, and she said that she had witnessed him manufacturing the drug three or four times. She also said she was well aware of the danger meth posed to her and her son, Buffington said.
The police allege that Miller and Luu exchanged the pseudoephedrine for meth, making them complicit in the manufacture of the drug. Text messages on cell phones recovered at the house show Miller asking Chacon whether she could come upstairs for a “bump,” Buffington said.
Judge Edward Gordon presided over the probable cause hearings. For Joyce, he found probable cause on possession of a controlled drug and intent to sell, but not on the charge of manufacture of a controlled drug. Joyce is being held on $200,000 cash bail. For Luu, the judge found probable cause on criminal liability for the conduct of another but not conspiracy to manufacture; he is being held on $50,000 cash bail. The judge found probable cause on all the charges against Miller, and she is being held on $25,000 cash bail.
Attorneys for both Dandeneah and Chacon requested a continuation as new charges have been added, and they will face probable cause hearings next week. Chacon is being held on $100,000 cash bail, and Dandeneah is being held on $5,000 cash bail. Dragon, who faces charges of possession of a controlled substance for suboxone, conspiracy to manufacture and criminal liability for the conduct of another, waived his right to a probable cause hearing. His bail was set at $1,000 cash. It is unclear why his bail was significantly lower than the other suspects.
The cases will continue in Merrimack County Superior Court.