13,500 Pounds & The Curious Cat

On March 22nd the evening news in my living room excitedly reported that the DEA was hard at work with my tax dollars, ridding Arizona of marijuana! The largest residential bust in Tucson history had occurred in an upper-scale north side home, they said, resulting in the seize of 13,500 pounds. They went on to tell citizens that no arrests had been made, nor were any suspects in custody, as the “criminal” escaped by jumping through a glass window and disappearing without a trace. Huh?
The next day I looked through the Tucson Citizen to find out what the hell was going on. Amazingly, all I could find was an article containing 185 words. Maybe I am naive, but don’t we deserve a little more information on what authorities are calling “the biggest residential seizure in Tucson?” I decided to do some investigating as a concerned voter in my community, and discovered a tale filled with so many holes that I doubt even Hollywood would pick this one up.

I called the DEA with questions, and was immediately transferred to deputy Tony Ryan’s cell phone. I asked him if he had time to satisfy my curiosities, and he informed me that he was currently “watching a house” and might have to hang up if “something went down.” (Glad to know where my tax money is going, since it’s not in the schools or America’s failing healthcare.) After explaining that I was a freelance reporter, Mr. Ryan confirmed that no arrests have been made in this case nor any were suspects in custody. He only told me that the “good citizens” of Tucson had been calling in with information. God bless America!

Mr. Ryan was exceptionally eager to help me with my story. He offered to have the Assistant Special Agent in charge, Tony Coulson, contact me for further statements, and I reluctantly gave him my phone number. I was a little surprised when I got a call fifteen minutes later from Mr. Coulson, who was not as friendly as the first agent, and I believe rather annoyed at my persistent questions that may have sounded like an inquisitive three-year-old. At one point he flatly told me “Curiosity kills the cat.”

But here is what I did find out: The DEA doesn’t know if the suspect involved is a US citizen or not, and they don’t know who is responsible for the weed’s existence in the home. Mr. Coulson said that the pot actually came from Mexico, and that it really isn’t the largest residential bust in Tucson history. Turns out that 32,000 pounds of marijuana was seized in 1986 in a residence off of Speedway Blvd. Ooops! Well, the stolen marijuana from this recent raid has been burned in a giant, privately owned incinerator in Tucson, the location of which is “top-secret.”

After we ended our very short and boring conversation, I got to thinking about this top-secret incinerator. Where could it be? I looked in the phone book under “incinerators”, but found nothing. I called a scrap metal recycling company listed in the yellow pages and asked the perfectly normal question, “Do you have a giant incinerator?” The humored voice on the other end knew exactly what I was talking about and replied “No, but I know who does!”

Turns out that AMCEP on E. Tennessee St. is a scrap metal company contracted with the DEA, and is the top-secret location of the giant weed-burning incinerator! I dialed them up and spoke with a very pleasant but very firm gentleman who refused my requests to photograph the dragon that just consumed 13,500 pounds of Mexican bud. He did tell me that it took approximately eight hours to incinerate the stolen marijuana, and that air pollution control mechanisms prevent the city of Tucson from getting high during the blaze. Darn!

AMCEP clearly stated their concern regarding my photo request. Just imagine: drug mafia would unquestionably discover the hidden whereabouts via my photograph, and arrive toting automatic weapons, killing everyone in sight, and reclaiming their stolen drugs! But it only took me, a curious citizen, a few minutes to discover where they were located ? I pulled up the address on Mapquest and had directions laid out on my computer in less than thirty seconds. Surely, vengeful drug lords could locate the incinerator without the help of my photograph? My line of reasoning seemed sensible to me, but it was not enough to convince AMCEP, and my request to take photos was answered with a very definite NO. Interestingly, an AMCEP employee told me “People have crawled through the gate at night and made their way through the furnace while it is still hot. We’ve seen the footprints in the ashes.”

Here’s some other information that I received from the DEA’s Phoenix office, although I had to answer a series of questions about who I was and where the information was going to be published before I could receive it. I wasn’t completely forthright with my answers, but considering that I hadn’t received completely forthright answers from the DEA, I figure that turnabout is fair play.

In Arizona’s 2004 calendar year, the DEA reports that 990,100 pounds of marijuana was seized (compared to 10,016 pounds of Cocaine, 146 pounds of Heroin and 2,461 pounds of methamphetamines). This is an increase from the 2003 calendar year, in which reports show 917,042 pounds of marijuana were apprehended by the DEA. For the year 2005, 2,141 million dollars of taxpayer’s money will be spent by the DEA.