Embedded in Austin

On the ground in one of Minnesota's meth hot spots

Sheriff's Detective Glen Farnum recalls responding to a report of a domestic disturbance in a nearby town. "When we got there it was clear this guy had been using meth and was out of his gourd," Farnum said. "He was in the bathroom and we were trying to get him to come out. He climbed into the bathtub and just started sawing away at his own neck with a knife. The guy cut his own throat." Another time Farnum responded to a meth lab in a rural trailer. "We found all these brain-damaged cats wobbling around the place," he said. "These poor cats couldn't walk and their hair was falling out in big clumps. I'm telling you, this stuff is unbelievable. It just rots people's minds. I don't think there's any hope."

 

There may not be any hope, but the Mower County police and sheriff's departments may have caught a considerable break in January, when 50 state, local, and federal agents staged a series of raids in and around Austin and charged Peter Noe, Tim Schultz, and another of their California associates, Terry Bauman, with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and marijuana. Two Austin residents, Arthur Clennon and Amy Marie Placek, were also named in the federal indictments, and the authorities allegedly confiscated 550 grams of meth and 220 pounds of marijuana. The main players, Noe and Schultz, remain in federal custody, and their case is scheduled for trial June 2.

"The fact that the feds felt that we had a significant enough problem to get involved is huge for us," County Attorney Patrick Flanagan said. "It really speaks to the extent of the problem we have here, and is an acknowledgement that what's been going on isn't just confined to small local players. It's long been our belief that we were dealing with an organized outfit that was operating at a very large scale, and what they were doing wasn't confined to Mower County."

"I do believe we're already seeing some positive effects from heightened awareness, but at this point it would be naïve to be too optimistic," Philipp said. "There are people out there who are still making and selling this stuff. And I'm afraid the demand is still there as well, so I'm certainly not ready to say we're out of the woods yet. With budget cuts and the state's financial position, I expect there's going to be a significant drain on everybody, and we're already treading water down here."

Terese Amazi concurs with her colleague on that count. "The DEA's assistance has been critical for us," she said. "We honestly couldn't afford most of the stuff we do without federal funding, so we have to cross our fingers that programs don't get cut. The problem, unfortunately, is that the cat's already out of the bag. I'm afraid we're going to see more and more meth. It's just so hard to shut it down completely when the ingredients are still so readily available and we have anhydrous ammonia in every farmer's field."

Glen Farnum listens to Amazi and just shakes his head. "The thing people don't realize is that there's no one contributing factor or one small segment of the population who's doing this," he said. "If people think it's not a problem or it's not going to happen to them, they're nuts. They're just out of their minds.

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