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Tohono O'odham firefighter charged with meth possession, illegally ordering allergy pills to 'cook' drugs

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Tohono O'odham firefighter charged with meth possession, illegally ordering allergy pills to 'cook' drugs

  • A DEA agent in protective gear outside the mobile home where a Tohono O'odham firefighter was cooking methamphetamine for himself and his girlfriend.
    HSIA DEA agent in protective gear outside the mobile home where a Tohono O'odham firefighter was cooking methamphetamine for himself and his girlfriend.

A Tohono O'odham firefighter was arrested by federal agents Monday for allegedly ordering allergy pills so he could make methamphetamine for himself and his girlfriend at his mobile-home located in a remote part of the Tohono O'odham Nation. 

Agent targeted the couple after discovering that the firefighter was ordering Claritin allergy pills, which authorities said he would then use as part of the "cooking" process in a lab tucked into a bedroom at the home where he lived with his girlfriend, and two teenage sons. After he was arrested, he told agents that he needed the meth to function, and that he had to "smoke at least once an hour to stay awake," according to a federal complaint filed Tuesday.  

Stephen Folson, 36, and Desiree Saraficio, 29, were arrested by agents with Homeland Security Investigations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Native American Targeted Investigations of Violent Enterprises Taskforce, which includes federal agents and members of the Tohono O'odham Police Department. 

HSI special agents decided to investigate Folson based on a tip from intelligence agents with U.S. Border Patrol, and found that Folson was making "suspicious overseas purchases shipments" the last several months. On Monday morning, agents surveilled Folson, and watched as he picked up a package, and drove back to his home in the village of Santa Rosa, about 62 miles northwest of Tucson. 

The agents raided his home, pushing past Folson's two teenage sons, and found a bedroom with "a substantial amount of methamphetamine manufacturing equipment and precursor products" including glassware, ventilation systems, filtration systems, soda bottles, Acetone containers, as well various torches, charcoal lighter fluid, glass pipes, and other items, according the complaint filed against Folson in federal court. 

"Meth labs are basically ticking time bombs, waiting for a single spark to ignite and explode causing irreparable damage and in the most extreme cases, death," said Scott Brown, special agent in charge with HSI. "Not only is this an environmental hazard, but one that should have never been operated by someone in a position of public trust. The defendants most certainly knew better. The discovery of the meth lab is yet another example of the importance of partnering with federal agencies to leverage all capabilities to disrupt illicit activities along the southwest border." 

The package that Folson picked up contained 10 boxes of Claritin 24-hour allergy pills, which contained about 36 grams of pseudoephedrine, far and above the legal daily limit for purchasing under federal law. Pseudoephedrine is one of several precursor chemicals used to make methamphetamine. Folson later told federal agents that he has been using methamphetamine for the last 9-10 years, and has been "cooking" the narcotic for about three years, authorities said.

Folson told agents he used the "Shake and Bake Method" to cook the methamphetamine for himself and his girlfriend, mixing Claritin allergy caplets with ammonium nitrate, sodium hydroxide, and lithium harvested from batteries, the court documents said.

"Due to the high toxicity levels, a DEA hazardous materials team responded and discovered additional unknown chemicals inside various pieces of glassware," said Yasmeen Pitts-O'Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman. "Further, the entire residence was decontaminated to prevent further exposure to officers and the neighborhood." 

According to court records, Folson purchased his ingredients from China and Canada, including purchasing chemicals from eBay Canada to get around state and federal regulations surrounding the sale of pseudoephedrine. Folson told agents that he has ordered and imported about 100 boxes of pseudoephedrine from Canada. About five boxes of pseudoephedrine will produce 10 grams of useable meth, Folson told agents. 

In the complaint, federal agents said that Folson admitted to ordering the chemicals to produce methamphetamine, and that he needs the drugs to "function." 

"Folson stated that he knows the process of cooking meth is dangerous and toxic, but he needs it to function," the agent wrote. Folson said he "smoked more and more meth, to where now must 'smoke at least once an hour to stay awake'" the agent wrote. 

Saraficio had left the residence before the raid, and was later arrested during a traffic stop, according to court records.

Saraficio told agent she has used meth for the last nine years, and that she helped purchase over-the-counter pseudoephedrine for Folson, as well as pick up and deliver his imported shipments of pseudoephedrine from the U.S. Post Office to their residence. She said that she didn't like the smell of the cooking process, and called Folson's meth production a "hobby." 

Both Folson and Saraficio are charged with violating Title 21, United States Code, Section 846 of the United States Controlled Substances Act for possession, and possession with the intent to distribute, 5 grams or more of methamphetamine. 

The investigation is led by HSI, and conducted in partnership with the NATIVE task force, which was formed in August 2013 and charged to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations operating within or through the Tohono O'odham Nation, said Pitts-O'Keefe. 

The NATIVE task force is led by Tohono O'odham police, and composed of special agents with HSI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Land Management Office of Law Enforcement and Security, Bureau of Indian Affairs Drug Enforcement Division, U.S. Border Patrol and the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area taskforce. 

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