Walworth and Rock counties see steep drop in meth labs, but police are 'getting wind' of drug cartel meth
ELKHORN—The manufacture of methamphetamine in Walworth County dropped substantially in the second half of fiscal year 2017, but the leader of the county's drug unit said meth made by drug cartels could be appearing in its place.
After a blazing start—Walworth County tallied one-third of the state's identified meth labs in the first six months of the fiscal year—Walworth County saw only two labs from May through September, according to data from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Walworth County began the fiscal year -- Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017 -- with nine identified meth labs in six months.
Neighboring Rock County, where authorities found four meth labs in the first six months, did not see a meth lab in the latter half of the fiscal year.
Walworth and Rock counties still combined for more than 40 percent of the state's annual total.
The Drug Enforcement Administration in fiscal year 2017 statewide identified 37 meth labs, which for the first time since at least 2012 is fewer than the previous year.
The 11 meth labs in Walworth County accounted for about 30 percent of the state's total, a fact that has worried and mobilized local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
Why the drop?
Walworth County sheriff's Capt. Robert Hall, who heads the county's drug unit, in December 2016 called meth in Walworth County an “epidemic.”
And that was before the January explosion of a meth lab in a Lake Geneva hotel room.
But after March 8, the Drug Enforcement Administration identified no meth labs in the county until Sept. 20.
What slowed the spread?
“Tougher bonds” ordered by Walworth County judges to keep meth suspects in jail pending trial was one reason, Hall said Wednesday.
The same group of people had been responsible for multiple instances of meth manufacturing, Hall said. Once police arrested those people, high bond amounts kept them incarcerated.
Hall also credited his staff's work in identifying, locating and dismantling meth operations. Their work, such as checking pharmacy logs for the sale of pseudoephedrine, a meth ingredient, helped lead to the reduction, he said.
That all kept things quiet until Sept. 19, when off-duty sheriff's Lt. Todd Neumann reported seeing Krista Stoll Wobig, 32, of Lake Geneva, ditching meth materials in a town of Delavan field, according to a criminal complaint.
Stoll Wobig, according to court documents, was among the people found with meth materials in the house belonging to Patrick McBean days before McBean was found at the meth lab explosion at the Lake Geneva hotel.
McBean on Oct. 25 was sentenced to two years in prison and asked to pay more than $125,000 in restitution for damage to the hotel room after the explosion.
'We're getting wind of it'
The quiet months did not mean Walworth County had no meth, Hall said.
“The fear right now is that the methamphetamine is going from being a one-pot production to being actually methamphetamine imported into the county through drug organizations,” he said.
That pattern is the “natural progression” seen in other locations, he said.
Within the last three months or so, Hall said law enforcement has suspected meth from drug cartels is finding its way into Walworth County.
“We're getting wind of it,” he said.
All of the Wisconsin meth labs the Drug Enforcement Administration identified in the last year were one-pot meth cooks, which refers to single batches of meth being made in common bottles or containers. Cartels often produce meth in higher quantities.
Meth is hazardous to make, and its disposal takes extensive manpower and resources, sometimes coming from out of state.
One Elkhorn family had to be displaced twice from their home because of meth making in the unit above them, Hall said.
Although cartel meth is “absolutely” as dangerous to use, having less of it manufactured locally reduces the risk of injury to innocent locals caused by meth lab explosions, Hall said.
“When we go back to the night of the hotel explosion in Lake Geneva, that decimated that entire room for a significant period of time,” Hall said. “It put all sorts of people -- above, below, left to right, first responders, hotel maintenance staff -- it put all of them at risk for health exposures.”
If more meth is being imported, then tracking the sale of its precursors might not yield as many catches. Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday signed into law a bill that would require all pharmacies to use the same online system to track the sale of meth's key ingredient: pseudoephedrine.
The shift to imported meth could take away some hazards, but Hall said dangers remain.
“So from a safety standpoint, we're not putting innocent people at risk of those exposures,” he said. “But neither one of them is good.”