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SALT LAKE CITY — Tougher laws in Utah have made it more difficult for people cooking methamphetamine in their home, but investigators are concerned about the problem that remains in Utah.
Stricter Utah laws have discouraged many meth user from making the drug, with many looking to feed their habit from another source: Mexico. A massive drug bust Sunday has only highlighted the problem.
"Meth is an evil drug and it's affected our moral fiber of this country," said Frank Smith of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "We stopped it from hitting the street of Utah; that's significant."
However, Smith said the investigation is not over. The DEA is going after specific organizations that could lead to the discovery of more drugs and arrests.
"You can't come across that much methamphetamine without having a significant infrastructure," Smith said.
During this weekends drug bust, agents found guns, ammo and cash at a home in Emigration Canyon. In a traffic stop on I-15, agents also seized marijuana and 25 pounds of meth, with direct ties to Mexican drug cartels.
You can't come across that much methamphetamine without having a significant infrastructure.
The drug, made in Mexican super labs, is more potent than what anyone could cook in Utah, and it is far more valuable. The meth has a street value of $2 million.
"In Utah, 90 percent to 95 percent of all methamphetamine is coming in from the super labs," Smith said.
Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe, a former Commander of the Salt Lake Metro Narcotics Task Force, said he is not surprised the big drug bust are now being made.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me that we're making a narcotics seizure of 25 pounds," Chief Keefe said. "I'm sure there are many instances when that type of weight is coming into the state of Utah."
Chief Keefe said meth remains one of the highest abused drugs in the country, but the problem goes beyond drug use.
"Meth users often commit property crimes, fraud, forgeries, burglaries to support their habit," Chief Keefe said. "Every community in Utah is facing those issues."
"You can't arrest our way out of the methamphetamine problem," added Smith. "You have to have education, you have to have strong families talking to our kids."
Six months ago, federal drug agents dismantled a three-state cell of the Sinaloa cartel operating in Salt Lake. They arrested 30 people and seized 30 pounds of meth, a pound of heroin, a kilo of cocaine and more than $300,000 in cash.
A decade ago, drug officers busted a meth lab almost every day on the Wasatch Front, but now over 90 percent of meth is coming in from huge "superlabs," according to Smith.
He said massive marijuana farms planted on Utah's public lands, with armed guards, pose an even greater threat. Last year, agents cut down more than 100,000 pot plants and arrested 38 foreign nationals.
It's a half-billion dollar-a-year business that Smith calls the cash cow of the Mexican Drug Cartels.