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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Operation "Meth Merchant"

Take a look at this story from the New York Times about a federal sting operation in northern Georgia...Operation Meth Merchant...that targeted Indian immigrant shopkeepers for selling the raw materials that can be used to make methamphetamine. Now, meth is bad news, in fact, it is worse news than most people think.

However, consider these facts about Operation Meth Merchant:

  • 44 of the 49 defendents charged are Indian Immigrants
  • 32 of them are named Patel and are members of the large Patel clan from Gujarat, India whose members are frequently owners of small shops and motels in the South
  • While "Federal law makes it illegal to sell products knowing, or with reason to believe, that they will be used to produce drugs" and the "defendants face up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines" it is not at all clear that the shopkeepers charged had enough command of English to even understand what the undercover agents were saying, much less be collaborators or merchants, in any sense of the word, in the production of methamphetamine.
  • Who were these "agents?" According to the NYT: "Prosecutors paid confidential informants - some former convicts, others offered the promise of lighter punishment for pending charges - to buy products in stores in six counties beginning in early 2004, and drop hints that they were making drugs." Ie. The paid informants were actual meth criminals hoping to spend less time in jail.
  • What kind of "hints" were dropped? The main thing the informants would say was they were doing "a cook". Mind you, the prosecutors had to footnote their own papers to explain to the court what doing "a cook" meant. Some of the products on the watch list given to merchants include aluminum foil and lighter fluid. Hardly obvious what kind of cook they were talking about.
  • What started all this? "Operation Meth Merchant started, Mr. Nahmias [United States Attorney for Northern Georgia] said, with complaints from local sheriffs that certain stores were catering to the labs."

    This is a federal law enforcment effort. ie. one that should live up to the highest standards of prosecutorial conduct and is being funded with our tax dollars. Neverthless, Operation "Meth Merchant" was undertaken at the behest of local sheriffs targeting immigrants whose involvement in criminal activity is unclear at best. (Supposing there was wrongdoing involved here, does anyone think that the proportion of intentional small shop sales of these materials is at all reflected in the ethnicity of those charged? Ie. Are we to believe that Indian immigrant shopkeepers were supplying 90% of these ingredients, that they are somehow the main force behind meth production....in rural Georgia?)

    And the prosecutors have proven incompetent. Some of those arrested were soon released due to the weakness of the case against them, and innocent people have been arrested and held in jail in this federal operation simply because of their Indian surname:

    According to court records, prosecutors first identified Ms. Patel as the woman who sold two bottles of cold medicine to an informant in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., because her name appeared on the registration of a van parked outside. But the driver of the van worked for a company, owned by her and her husband, that installs security cameras, and Ms. Patel produced records showing that she was picking her son up at a day care center in Tennessee at the moment she was said to be in Georgia.

    Her misidentification has fueled the belief among the Indians that investigators were operating on cultural bias. This corner of the state is still largely white; Indians began moving here about 10 years ago, buying hotels and then convenience stores, and some whites still say, mistakenly, that "Patel" means "hotel" in Hindi.

    "They want to destroy all Indian businesses," said Ms. Ahmed, whose husband is in jail. "Because they hate us, or I don't know."


    The United States has a national problem with methamphetamine abuse. Does the Justice Department really expect anyone to agree that the focus here should be centered on selectively charging Indian immigrant convenience store owners with federal drug crimes...ie. "Operation Meth Merchant"? Do the large corporations that manufacture and sell these "raw materials" have any responsibility here? Do you think, perhaps, that these companies "know" how their products are being misused or how their sales are skewed? Who are the "meth merchants" here? The guy who owns the 7/11? Is that what we're supposed to believe?

    This is a small story about injustice visited on "little people," pawns really, in a much bigger story. It's a story that could easily get lost in the shuffle.

    It also reeks of ethnic bias and selective prosecution of a fast growing immigrant group representing a nation of one billion people.

    Is there anyone in Congress who is brave enough and smart enough to speak out on this?


    {Permalink}

  • 2 Comments:

    • the usual suspects strike again, and old habits die hard. is there a drug in this country that hasn't been blamed on some minority group or another in a fit of xenophobic hysteria?

      meh. if they legalized pot nobody would bother with crap like meth anyway, and we'd all be pleasant, forgetful, repeating ourselves and looking for that bag of cool ranch doritos and wondering-if-we-haven't-ordered-pizza-but-where's-the-pizza-guy. tell me that wouldn't be an improvement on the status quo, if a bit overly giggly.

      By Anonymous wu ming, at 12:31 AM  

    • This is a disturbing development in an already disturbing trend. I mean, for the love of God, pseudoephedrine is supposed to be an over-the-counter drug. I should be able to walk in and buy as much of it as I need, without having to talk to the pharmacist.

      Now, because some people are using it for purposes for which it was not intended, it's back on the restricted list? Where does this stop? Pretty soon you're going to have to get federal clearance to buy groceries. You could be taking those potatoes home to make vodka, you know....

      By Anonymous Michael, at 7:13 AM  

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