Meth by mail: Law enforcement tracks deliveries to Mo.

Updated: Jul. 27, 2021 at 5:45 PM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Methamphetamine sent special delivery right to your hometown.

“Just the sheer bulk of meth on the streets, I think, has increased just because there’s so many people mailing so much of it,” said Master Sargent Mark McClendon, coordinator of the SEMO Drug Task Force.

Meth has long plagued communities across the Heartland, from dangerous makeshift labs to cheap Mexican shipments.

But now, it’s cheaper and more readily available than ever before.

That’s because dealers are simply packing it up and mailing it here.

“Three or four years ago, it was unheard of for a shipment of drugs to come in through mail or UPS or FedEx,” said Assistant United States Attorney Keith Sorrell.

Now, it’s the delivery method of choice, and it’s bringing methamphetamine back to southeast Missouri with a vengeance.

“The quantities of methamphetamine that are available now are just off the chart compared to the early ’90s when the labs really took off,” Sorrell said.

We recently sat down with Sorrell and veteran drug officers Mark McClendon and Mike Alford to talk about the effort to stop these dealers, and the packages they ship.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to the size,” Alford said of the packages. “It just depends on how much they’re trying to ship.”

“We really don’t know who the package is going to,” McClendon continued. “Could be bad guy’s cousin or a friend of a friend of a friend. And we just don’t know those names.”

And that, they said, is why mailing meth into the region is so successful.

Sorrell also pointed out, the risk is reduced when you’re not driving dope cross-country.

“So now, the focus is on the package itself and who’s tracking that package, who mailed it, and who’s receiving it,” he said.

Tracking the package, not the person, broke a meth-by-mail operation wide open in 2020. California native Dexter Elcan had been on the SEMO Drug Task Force’s radar since late 2018.

He wanted to sell here, McClendon said, because meth goes for $4,000 a pound locally, but just $2,000 a pound in Elcan’s home state.

“So, he’s doubling his money,” McClendon explained. “Every trip he makes. Every pound he gets and distributes over here, he’s doubling his money.”

But it took a traffic stop to change Elcan’s method of getting his meth to local distributors.

“He had got caught in another state while he was transporting himself,” Alford recalled. “So, we think that may have led him to start using the different delivery companies.”

The local case against Elcan picked up steam with a bit of luck in February 2020. That’s when police intercepted a one-pound package of meth he mailed from a UPS store in Lynnwood, California to a Cape Girardeau apartment complex.

McClendon showed the label on that package delivered to the apartment on Whitener Street.

“The Sheryl Taylor name? There is no such person as Sheryl Taylor. There’s no such person as Jarvis Slater. There is an address, which is about the only thing you have to go on,” he said.

But once they had the package, they could get to work.

“We end up talking to the person who comes to pick up the package,” McClendon said. “She agrees to cooperate. And she makes some phone calls for us.”

The Charleston woman told officers her sister from Sikeston was set to pick up the package. That woman agreed to call Elcan to say it arrived, then contacted the Cape Girardeau man, set to distribute the meth.

“That guy’s name is Hamilton. She calls Hamilton. Hamilton comes over to pick up the box. We arrest Hamilton. Hamilton is interviewed. He says that he admits to receiving 100-200 pounds of meth from Elcan over the last three years.”

In a photo, you can see the small bag of meth Elcan’s now convicted of mailing to Cape Girardeau. So, how much is it?

“One pound.”

One pound. So, one to two hundred pounds?

“That’s what he admits to. Yes, ma’am.”

Now, the heat is on Elcan, who made a move that landed him in a southeast Missouri jail.

On July 13, 2020, Elcan headed back to his local UPS store and shipped two packages to Poplar Bluff.

“He mails the packages the evening of the 13th,” McClendon said. “Catches an airplane the evening of the 13th. Flies into St. Louis late on the 13th, early on the 14th. Gets a ride from St. Louis to Poplar Bluff.”

Elcan was at a home on Delano Street when the shipment arrived.

“The package is on the porch,” he continued. “We actually see him stick his head out the door, grabs the package and pulls it back inside and shuts the door.”

Officers move in and Elcan took off. They caught him just minutes later.

McClendon called his arrest a regional effort. “We had help from DEA both in Cape Girardeau and Los Angeles on this one. We had help from Cape PD, Sikeston DPS, Poplar Bluff PD. Butler County Sheriff’s Office. Highway Patrol.”

And Elcan did not go down alone. Every person who helped him in southeast Missouri also got indicted.

That means if you’ve had any part in that package getting from point A to point B, you’re a likely defendant in a federal drug case.

“Yes. That has happened where people who are just receiving the package for a few hundred dollars have been indicted here and prosecuted for exactly that offense. For helping their friend, the dealer, get the drugs in,” he said.

The Elcan case is closed, but the meth by mail cases keep coming.

Sorrell said he’s working one right now involving two packages sent through UPS.

“There was a shipment of 15 pounds that eventually arrived at a person’s house that was going to be distributed in southeast Missouri. 15 pounds of methamphetamine,” he said.

He also said that has a street value of around $60,000.

The carriers: UPS, Fed Ex and USPS all have their own methods of identifying and intercepting meth and other drugs traveling through their systems.

“They don’t want this stuff being shipped,” Alford said. “They don’t want their employees being around this. So, they’re calling us very often packages they deem as suspicious.”

But, the dealers are finding unique ways of concealing the contents.

Elcan used things like motor oil, foam insulation and lock boxes to protect his supply. And for every package they find, they all admit more get through.

And all this meth is leaving a very dangerous mark. “For example in Poplar Bluff, they went through a spell where they’re having an overdose a day that they were treating in the hospitals and a death a week,” Sorrell said. “And that went on for months.”

So the work continues to track the packages, then the people behind the surge in meth by mail.

“Once we get good at something they’re going to change it,” Alford admitted. “Just like meth labs. They’re going to find another way. And we just have to figure out what that way is.”

A UPS spokesman said they use a number of different security measures to track and intercept illegal packages, but cannot share them publicly. He also said they work closely with law enforcement.

Paul Shade, a USPS postal inspector out of Kansas City, Missouri, said they use dedicated teams of inspectors who work with federal state and local authorities to stop packages.

Shade said they rely on local authorities to report what they find as well.

He said the meth shipments they see are coming from California and Arizona.

Shade also offered up these statistics.

In 2019, the USPS initiated 2,469 drug cases, including 2,562 arrests.

Those cases resulted in 2,063 convictions.

The USPS also offers rewards up to $50,000 for the arrest and conviction of those sending illegal drugs through the mail.

Tips can be sent anonymously using the USPS tip line 877-876-2455.

A media spokesperson for FedEx did not return our requests for comment.

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