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Alleged Methamphetamine Ring "Kingpin" Indicted

Alleged Methamphetamine Ring "Kingpin" Indicted

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The U.S. attorney's office has announced indictments for 24 people and three businesses on 59 counts relating to a methamphetamine distribution ring in Utah.

The arrests and grand jury indictments are part of the most important drug bust in several years, said Barry Jamison from the Drug Enforcement Agency's metro task force.

The ring "is not crippled -- it's been dismantled from top to bottom," Jamison said at a news conference Monday.

Police have seized more than $1.2 million in assets -- including two houses, five acres of undeveloped land, two vintage Corvettes, a boat, an elaborate home theater system, and a Ms. Pacman video game -- from defendants, according to indictments provided by the U.S. attorney's office.

At the center of the indictments is Niels Orrin Yergensen, who allegedly bought meth imported from Mexico and southern California. He reportedly sold it to other dealers, who then sold the drug in successively smaller quantities until it reached consumers, Jamison said.

"If there was meth in the Salt Lake valley, there's a good chance it came from this organization," Jamison said.

The 24 people filtered as much as 300 pounds of meth through Salt Lake annually, Warner said. Money from drug sales allegedly was laundered through Up in Smoke, Discount Cigarette Factory Outlet and KNP, which was formed solely as a front for the money laundering, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Daynes said.

At least eight police agencies were involved with the investigation that took nearly a year, Warner said. His office is still seeking four suspects, including the two people who allegedly imported the meth for Yergensen. Warrants have been issued for the arrests of Maura Gonzales and Joaquin Murillo-Sandoval, Warner said.

Dismantling a distribution ring rather than a cooking lab was a welcome change for the local authorities. Meth labs have been declining for the last three years, but that had increased the need for imported drugs, Warner said.

But he was quick to point out that this bust won't be the end of distribution in Salt Lake City.

"There are a lot of people without a source now," Warner said. "We're not naive enough to suggest that will be the end of it."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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