Cold pill purchase yields meth bust

A Wal-Mart security guard suspicious of several large Sudafed purchases took immediate action that led to the arrest of four suspected drug manufacturers from Washington State.

The suspects were arraigned this week for their apparent intent to manufacture methamphetamine from a “mobile lab.” Appearing in Hood River Circuit Court was: Mark Allen Qualls, 43, of Goldendale; James Elmer Wilcox, 55, of Sunnyside; Larry Dean McIntosh, 53, of Goldendale; and his daughter, Jodi Lee Abrams, 28, of Sunnyside.

District Attorney John Sewell said all four individuals have a criminal background that includes other drug-related convictions. He said Qualls has a pending case in Hood River Municipal Court for shoplifting a lithium battery from Wal-Mart on Dec. 6. In addition, he said Qualls also has similar drug charges pending in Wasco County and Wilcox was on a conditional release from jail at the time of his recent arrest for other drug manufacturing charges in his home town.

“The security official at Wal-Mart was alert enough to recognize that these people were probably involved in criminal activity, and because he took the time to call the police and follow up on that suspicion some habitual meth traffickers are now in custody,” Sewell said.

He said the incident began during the afternoon of Dec. 16 when security personnel at the discount store noticed that three individuals had each picked up three boxes of Sudafed, commonly used in the manufacturing of meth. They decided to report the unusual behavior after the trio split up to make their purchases at different cash registers.

City police arrived at the scene a few minutes later to find the suspects’ car still sitting in the parking lot since Abrams, the driver, had gone back inside to make another Sudafed purchase. Officers then discovered that Qualls, who had been banned from the property forever, was sitting in the passenger seat. During questioning about his criminal trespass, Sewell said police were granted the right by Abrams to search the car and uncovered a variety of drug paraphernalia, including meth hidden inside a diaper bag and scales, solvent, and a butane torch in a box and backpack.

“This case is very indicative of what is going on with meth labs right now,” said Sewell.

He said the new trend of dealers/users is to avoid the larger stationary labs in preference of smaller operations that can be operated on the move.

“Mobile labs making an ounce of meth at a time are contributing to the drug problem and it’s gratifying to take a couple of these dealers off the street,” Sewell said.

Abrams was jailed on a $2,500 cash bail but the cost for McIntosh, Wilcox and Qualls to get released from custody was set at $10,000 each. However, Sewell said Qualls and Wilcox could be prevented from leaving jail if Washington State files a hold because of violations in their other cases.

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