Two drug busts last month involving major quantities of methamphetamine have sparked concern among law enforcement officials in Chicago that cartels are moving into the meth market, a development that could lead to a steep increase in trafficking of the drug to the city.
Chicago police have seized smaller amounts of the drug before that were believed to involve small-scale labs in the Chicago area. But the busts in August involved suspects believed to be bringing the drug into Chicago for Mexican cartels, which have been developing so-called "super labs" to produce mass quantities of the drug, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday.
Jack Riley, a special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Chicago, said the cartels traditionally flood areas with a particular drug to "capture the market." He worries that could be set to happen in Chicago with meth.
"It's a monster," he said of the drug and its addictive power. "I've personally seen it ruin communities."
So far, police in Chicago are not seeing street-level sales of the drug. But with the busts in mind, they are watching for any other signs that the crystal meth market is expanding.
In the first bust, in early August, DEA agents intercepted 17 pounds of the drug after a tipoff from an informant who said he had been approached about taking delivery of a shipment.
Then on Aug. 20, an Illinois State Police team inspected a suspicious truck and found 97 pounds of meth, according to court documents. The Mexican driver, who faces federal charges, told investigators he had been instructed to take the shipment to an address on Chicago's North Side.
Seizures of the drug along Illinois highways have been increasing.
"It's a whole different level now," said Frank Spizzirri, of the state police. "These are cartel amounts."