Four charged in meth lab raid only 200 feet away from Elsmere police station

ELSMERE, Ky. – Northern Kentucky narcotics investigators arrested four people people in connection with the manufacturing of methamphetamine when they raided a home hiding in plain sight Thursday afternoon.

Investigators with the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force along with Elsmere and Erlanger police officers raided a working meth lab at 5 Eastern Ave., less than 200 feet away from Elsmere police headquarters. Inside they found 35 individual, small-batch labs, each capable of producing "several grams" of meth, investigators said.

The more than six-month investigation netted the arrests of Charlotte Morris, 24, of Elsmere; Brittany Allen, 24, of Elsmere; Jonathan Ahlers, 24, of Villa Hills; and Medearis Northcutt, 23, of Fort Mitchell. Investigators seized meth and precursor. Initially, police detained six people, who are all in their 20s.

Armed with a search warrant and rifles, narcotics investigators entered the home at about 4 p.m. They also found digital scales. It was not known if any cash or weapons were retrieved.

“In my opinion, it’s a substantial operation,” said Elsmere Detective Dennis McCarthy, a 37-year veteran. “We found all the things that would be required for producing meth.

“Ninety percent of the time, it’s a long investigation to get it where we’re at today.”

Investigators executed a search warrant at an Eastern Avenue home, Thursday, April 10, 2014, where six people were arrested in connection with the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

McCarthy said that some of the meth and materials that were seized Thursday was a fresh batch. Investigators spent hours taking inventory and neutralizing material before they could take it away.

Elsemere police received complaints in recent months about suspicious and drug activity on Eastern Avenue and referred the information to the strike force, said Elsmere Police Chief Tim Thames.

“Meth kind of faded away when we saw the rise of heroin, but it appears that it, too, is making a comeback,” Thames said.

Vickie Phillips, who has lived on the Eastern Avenue for 20-plus years, said she's noticed some suspicious activity in recent months.

“I used to see people parking down the street away from the house and walk up to it and then leave 10 or 15 minutes later,” Phillips said. 

Northern Kentucky Strike Force Director Bill Mark said the suspects produced meth using the “one-pot” method, cooking single batches at a time. Meth labs are becoming more and more mobile with the growing popularity of the “one-pot” method, he said.

Investigators executed a search warrant at an Eastern Avenue home, Thursday, April 10, 2014, where six people were arrested in connection with the manufacturing of methamphetamine. Kareem Elgazzar | WCPO

“It was produced in small quantities, but done so on a pretty regular basis,” Mark said. “By no means do I think it’s an insult to Elsmere PD that this was across the street, rather these people were brazen that they thought they could get away with it.”

Mark said he doesn’t believe that the Eastern Avenue operation was part of a larger ring, but investigators are working to find out.

“When it comes to meth, we want to look into who’s supplied the raw materials to those doing the production,” Mark said. “The production is centered here.”

Thursdays raid was the third in the last year in Elsmere, he said.

Investigators said methamphetamine manufactures are turning to primitive processes to produce the stimulant. Methamphetamine is produced using an explosive cocktail of household goods and chemicals.

Methamphetamine is mainly made with diverted products that contain pseudoephedrine, Mark said, and it’s commonly found in over-the-counter cough medicine and decongestants.

Locally, one of the biggest challenges law enforcement agencies face is identifying small-time “cooks,” who may be just producing enough methamphetamine for a few days for use by a small number of people.

Small-time cooks use ether, paint thinner, Freon, acetone, anhydrous ammonia, iodine crystals, red phosphorus, drain cleaner, battery acid and lithium taken from inside batteries in the production process, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

READ: Crime and justice stories from Kareem Elgazzar
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