19 arrested, 44 pounds of meth seized in South Sound bust, documents say

More than 44 pounds of methamphetamine were seized and 19 people arrested Thursday as part of a two-year federal investigation into a South Sound drug ring, according to the Department of Justice.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s investigation centered on Pierce, Kitsap, Mason and Lewis counties, according to court documents. The investigation was conducted out of the DEA’s Tacoma office.

Among the arrested are two Gig Harbor men, an Olympia man and three Shelton residents.

All are charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Three others are also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to charging documents:

Starting in February 2014, a DEA agent began investigating a drug ring that was sending “large shipments of methamphetamine from Mexico via Arizona and California to Western Washington.”

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leighton authorized a wiretap May 16 to track communications of the leader of the group, as well as other participants.

Starting Nov. 11, two Lewis County men made plans to travel to Arizona to pick up a shipment.

DEA officials followed them to a Bremerton car rental lot, where they rented a pickup truck. They met one of the Gig Harbor men and drove to Chehalis, where the Gig Harbor man got out. The other two men journeyed on to Oregon on Interstate 5.

The DEA tracked the men’s cellphones until they arrived in Phoenix, where they met another man charged in the case and discussed picking up heroin.

They then went to Los Angeles, where they waited for 36 pounds of meth from two deals. Twenty pounds of the drug was late arriving and was not picked up, but the other 16 pounds were taken north on I-5 on Nov. 18.

On Dec. 8, another shipment was set up: 32 “Christmas presents,” according to text messages translated from Spanish. (The “presents” were pounds of meth.)

On Saturday, the two Lewis County men went south again on I-5, taking their wives and children to Anaheim, California, and arriving at 1 p.m. Sunday. That evening, the men met with a courier in the parking lot of a pet store, families in tow, for the drop.

Agents later arrested the 19 people held in the case.

Among the investigating agencies were the DEA, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the Washington State Patrol, the Thurston Narcotics Team, Lakewood police, Shelton police and the Mason County Sheriff’s Office.

Kenny Ocker: