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Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 8:35 am

Package of meth allegedly shipped to address in Oakfield, Le Roy man arrested

post by Howard Owens in crime, Le Roy, methamphetamine, Oakfield

Acting on a tip from law enforcement in Florida that a package of methamphetamine was being shipped to an address in Oakfield, members of the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force arrested a Le Roy man allegedly found in possession of the package.

Mark J. Puma, 42, of West Main Street, Le Roy, is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, 4th, criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th, and possession of controlled substances by ultimate user's original container.

The tip came from the Winterhaven Police Department. The package was reportedly delivered to an address on Farnsworth Avenue.

After confirming the package delivery, members of the task force reportedly observed Puma leaving the residence.

A traffic stop for an alleged traffic violation was initiated on Maltby Road, Oakfield, by a uniformed deputy and a state trooper.

During an interview with Puma, it was determined that Puma was allegedly in possession of Adderall.

A K-9 search of Puma's 2000 Toyota 4-Runner led to a positive alert by the dog on suspected narcotics in the vehicle.

The suspect package, with a return address in Lakeland, Fla., was located in the vehicle and a quanity of meth was allegedly found in the package.

Puma was arraigned and released under supervision of Genesee Justice.

Assisting in the investigation were the District Attorney's Office, uniformed deputies, state troopers, Medina PD and Medina PD's K-9, "Kye."

Friday, October 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm

State Police say tips from public vital in helping to uncover clandestine meth labs

post by Howard Owens in crime, methamphetamine

They're items you might find around the home of any Genesee County resident any day of the week -- Drano, salt, kitty litter, batteries, soda bottles and cold medicine -- but mixed together the chemicals can become deadly, either to the people seeking a high from methamphetamine, or to those consumed by fires when the chemistry goes bad.

At the Batavia barracks today, officers with the State Police met with media from throughout the region in the hope of educating the public about meth labs that might be found in their own neighborhoods.

"We need the public to help us," said Major Christopher Cummings, commander of Troop A in Batavia.

A chemical smell might alert a concerned citizen to a possible meth lab nearby, or if a person finds discarded materials along the side of a roadway or in a field, Cummings said they should call local law enforcement to check it out.

Such a lead could help uncover a clandestine meth lab.

While across Central and Western New York, the number of meth labs raided by State Police has increased considerably -- rising from 45 in 2011 to more than 100 so far in 2012 -- there have been no labs detected in Genesee County since April 2011.

That lab, found in South Byron, came at the end of a spate of methamphetamine arrests that began with the bust of Kenneth Mosholder and accomplices in November 2009.

Last week at a press conference about prescription drug drop-offs, U.S. Attorney for Western New York William Hochul and Sheriff Gary Maha said there was no known meth activity in Genesee County.

Today, Cummings confirmed that activity locally seems to be way down.

"That's not to say they're not out there," Cummings said. "You don't know what you don't know."

Public education, Cummings said, is essential to uncovering meth labs.  Members of the public need to know what goes into making meth so that if they find the disposed waste of meth production they can report it, or if they smell a chemical smell that's unusual, they can call it in to police.

Doug Wildermuth (inset photo), head of the Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team, said there is no one description for the odor of meth. The best he could say was "it's a chemical smell." Because there's so many different recipes, it just isn't possible to say it smells one way or the other.

Part of today's press conference was aimed at educating the public on the inherent dangers of meth production.

There is no way to make it that doesn't involve some fire risk -- even with the so-called "one-pot method" that is commonly used these days.

"These are not labs as you might think of them," Cummings said. "These are not neat and clean. They're haphazard arrangements in sheds and garages."

A typical recipe includes ether (engine starter), sulfuric acid (drain cleaner), salt, lithium (batteries), anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer) and any number of different types of over-the-counter cold medications.

"All of these items are easy to get and easy to mix," Wildermuth said. "It's just that scary because it's just that quick."

While recipes for meth are easy to obtain online, the typical meth cook learned the process from another meth cook.

Local law enforcement, for example, maintained that many of the meth labs raided after Mosholder's arrest could be traced to Mosholder teaching others how to cook. Mosholder, originally from Genesee County, reportedly learned while in Texas.

While there are big meth lab operations in Mexico, where big drug cartels use more sophisticated methods than "one-pot," not much of that drug seems to be making its way to New York, authorities said.

The typical one-pot meth maker is mixing the chemicals for his or her own consumption and maybe only sells off a small amount of excess drug.

Once a lab is found, the clean up is expensive requires every environmental precaution. For the South Byron raid in 2009, The Batavian was invited by the Sheriff's Office to observe the operation. Pictures from that raid -- evidence collection handled by the State Police -- can be found by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Admitted South Byron meth accomplice receives probation sentence

post by Geoff Redick in byron, crime, methamphetamine

Twenty-four-year-old Tricia Tundo will serve five years probation, avoiding a possible one-and-a-half year jail sentence after pleading guilty in July to the unlawful disposal of the precursor materials to methamphetamine.

Tundo appeared before Genesee County Court Judge Robert Noonan this morning, visibly pregnant and much less gaunt than in previous court appearances. Defense attorney Tom Williams spoke on Tundo's behalf, saying she has attended counseling and passed multiple drug tests since she was released from custody following the meth bust at her South Byron home in April.

"I know nothing of the effects of this drug on the body, but I can tell you that Ms. Tundo's appearance has changed dramatically since I first met her at Wyoming County Correctional Facility several months ago," Williams said. "She appears in good spirits...she's no longer looking so sickly and thin."

Williams also made note to Judge Noonan that Tundo is expecting her first child in the second week of November.

Noonan maintained that Tundo "has not fully acknowledged an awareness of the drug activity that surrounded her." But he noted that this is Tundo's first criminal offense, and spared her the jail time. Tundo's driver's license will also be suspended.

Meanwhile, a check of county court records revealed today that Matthew Zon is two weeks into his prison sentence for his role in the South Byron meth lab. Zon was sentenced on Sept. 13 to three years in prison, followed by five years probation. As part of his plea deal, Zon forfeited ownership of a 2005 Chevrolet pickup truck.

Zon and Tundo were stopped in that truck on April 14, and were charged after they tried to ditch some methamphetamine materials on the side of the road.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 10:33 am

Woman arrested during county's first meth lab investigation given one year probation

post by Howard Owens in batavia, Alabama, corfu, crime, methamphetamine

A Jackson Street resident who got caught up in a meth ring nearly two years ago was given one-year probation in Federal Court on Friday.

Denise Montgomery, 42, previously entered a guilty plea to a federal charge of  "making available for use a place for the purpose of manufacturing, storing, distributing and using methamphetamine."

Montgomery was arrested in November 2009, and investigators said they found in her house a hot plate, unknown chemicals, glassware, and coffee filters containing residue.

In a press release, the U.S. Attorney's office said, "all...items (are) consistent with the clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine."

The arrest of Montgomery followed a raid earlier that day, Nov. 12, 2009, at 789 Lewiston Road, Alabama, where a suspected meth lab was found.

The property was owned by Kenneth W. Mosholder, 44, who wasn't arrested until later at Montgomery's house.

Arrested at the trailer in Alabama were Dustin R. Behman, 20, along with Mosholder's then 17-year-old son. They were in the trailer playing video games at the time of the early morning raid.

Kenneth Mosholder died in May, 2010, and was never prosecuted.

Behman was eventually sentenced to six-months house arrest and three years probation. In an interview with The Batavian, Behman said he had turned his life around.

The Mosholder meth operation was the first of several meth-related busts in Genesee County and Sgt. Steve Mullen, head of the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force, has said several of the alleged labs later found in the county could be tied back to Mosholder's operation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Pair involved in South Byron meth lab enter guilty pleas in county court

post by Howard Owens in byron, crime, methamphetamine

A 29-year-old meth cook from South Byron accepted a plea bargain today that could lead to a three- to five-year prison sentence, rather than the maximum 10-year sentence he was facing.

Matthew Zon pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a controlled substance, 2nd, for his part in the meth lab operation at 6319 E. Main St., South Byron (inset photo from the search).

His accomplice, Tricia Tundo, 24, of Byron, also entered a guilty plea, admitting to a lesser felony count of unlawful disposal of methamphetamine lab material.

Tundo faces a passible one and a half years in prison and a year of supervised release.

Zon and Tundo were were arrested April 14 during a traffic stop that was the culmination of a months long investigation by the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Lead investigator Sgt. Steve Mullen said at the time of the arrest that the trail that led to Zon and Tundo weaved its way back through a series of related meth lab busts starting with one -- the first one in Genesee County -- Nov. 12, 2009, in Alabama.

The South Byron raid uncovered a working meth lab and an amount of completed product.

Today, Zon satisfied multiple counts pending against him with his guilty plea. He is being held without bail and will remain in jail until his sentencing Aug. 24.

Tundo's guilty plea also satisfies a number of pending charges against her as well as charges that Asst. District Attorney David Gann said could have been filed against her. Gann indicated the Sheriff's Office has sufficient evidence to charge Tundo with all of the counts laid against Zon.

Tundo remains on release under supervision pending her sentencing Sept. 27.

Both Zon and Tundo face a possible $5,000 fine each as well as the suspension of their drivers' licenses.

Monday, July 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Batavia woman proclaims her innocence after meth dealing case dropped by feds

post by Howard Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, methamphetamine

According to Donna McAuley, for 45 years she managed to live her life without ever getting so much as a traffic ticket, and now she has people drive past her house and yell "crack head."

McAuley was arrested July 13, 2010 and accused of being part of a methamphetamine ring that included a dealer from Le Roy now serving more than 17 years in a federal prison.

McAuley was charged, along with four others, of conspiracy with intent to distribute narcotics. She was facing a maximum sentence of 40 years and a $2 million fine.

A few weeks ago, the charges against McAuley, aka Donna L. Boon, were dismissed.  

The Batavian spent a few weeks trying to get an explanation for the dismissal from the U.S. Attorney's office in Western New York and today we managed to contact Brett Harvey, who was prosecuting the case.

Harvey said he can't discuss the specifics behind the prosecution's motion to dismiss the charges because of the ongoing investigation (two defendants in the alleged ring still face charges), but that the case was dismissed "without prejudice."

That means the federal government could refile charges against McAuley, Harvey said.

"We dropped complaint, but have we have leave to pursue additional charges if circumstances warrant," Harvey said.

McAuley's Rochester-based attorney said he doesn't think that's going to happen.

"Donna McAuley's life has been in turmoil for more than a year, including the execution of a search warrant of her home," Robert Napier said. "In the end, the government concluded it does not have sufficient legal basis in which to pursue an indictment before a grand jury. 

"My conclusion," Napier added, "is that the government did not have enough evidence to pursue any charges against Ms. Boon."

According to Napier and McAuley, no drugs were found in her home at Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road when it was searched as part of an early morning raid by local and federal law enforcement on July 13, 2010.

That day, local law enforcement and the DEA and FBI along with Bill Hochul, the U.S. Attorney for Western New York, held a press conference attended by region-wide media. They announced the arrests of McAuley along with Donald G. Vanelli, 47, of 8394 Lake St., Le Roy; David H. Cohen, 49, of 918 Goodman St., Rochester; Andrew W. Chapman, 40, of 5 Cedar St., Batavia; and Kerry A. Ball, 51, of 7202 Meadville Road, Basom.

Vanelli eventually entered a guilty plea. The former Road Agents motorcycle club president admitted to procuring from suppliers and distributing between 5 and 15 kilograms of methamphetamine from 2004 through July 2010.

He was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in federal prison.

The charges against two of the three other defendants are still pending (at time of posting, we didn't have details on which two).

McAuley has admittedly mixed feelings about media coverage of her case being dismissed.

She feels vindicated -- she is adamant that she was not involved in any meth dealing and was not criminally associated with Vanelli, whom she characterized as a friend of 15 years.

She would also just like the case to go away, get her life back and not draw further public attention to her name.

And her name has drawn some attention.

It's been part of media reports every time Vanelli's case has made it through the federal court system.

It came up again when her husband, 62-year-old James Henry McAuley Jr. (aka "Mitch") was charged in a racketeering case stemming from the baseball-bat beating of a man in Rochester more than five years ago and an alleged plot to murder members of a potential rival motorcycle gang.

According to federal authorities, Mitch McAuley, who is currently confined to Elkton Federal Corrections Facility in Elkton, Ohio, on other charges, is vice president of the Rochester Hells Angels.

Donna McAuley said that even with her ties to Mitch McAuley and Donald Vanelli, she herself has never been involved in criminal activity. She has held down respectable, professional jobs for most of her adult life, she said, and she came to Genesee County 15 years ago to establish a reputation for herself as a good citizen.

The case against McAuley was apparently based entirely on wiretaps that recorded conversations between her and Vanelli. FBI agents claimed McAuley and Vanelli used a coded language to arrange for meetings to exchange drugs and/or cash. For example, there was one time when Vanelli, supposedly out of meth to sell, received a call from  McAuley.

According to the transcript, McAuley said, "I, um, what did I want last night, oh geez, I don't know, oh my friggin', I, can you stop by today and check my lawn mower? This mornin'?"

Agents took that to mean that McAuley had acquired a supply of meth.

Vanelli allegedly went to McAuley's house later that morning and when returned to his own home in Le Roy, allegedly arranged for a customer to make a buy.

McAuley said her contact and conversations with Vanelli were never about drugs. There was no coded language. Vanelli was just a longtime friend.

Robert Napier said his client is "an innocent, hard-working professional."

Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 10:48 am

Already in federal prison, Le Roy man pleads guilty in fraud case in absentia, case discharged

post by Howard Owens in crime, Le Roy, methamphetamine

A former Le Roy resident who was first involved with a meth lab and later found in possession of forged currency had his forgery case resolved in Genesee County Court today in an unusual manner.

Because Christopher J. Elmore is already in Georgia serving a 10-year federal sentence on the meth lab charges, Elmore was allowed to plead guilty by affidavit to criminal possession of a forged instrument, 3rd, a Class A misdemeanor.

Without Elmore in the court -- and because of the expense of bringing Elmore back to Genesee County for both a plea and sentencing -- Judge Robert C. Noonan, in accordance with the plea agreement, granted an unconditional discharge of the case.

Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Corfu man seeks redemption following meth lab sentencing

post by Howard Owens in corfu, crime, methamphetamine

Dustin R. Benham thought for sure last week he was going to get locked up in a federal penitentiary.

The sentencing recommendation for his role in a meth lab operation in Alabama was 12 to 18 months.

Today, he's under house arrest on a six-month term and then will serve three years probation for unlawful possession of chemicals that could be made into a controlled substance. He also must pay more than $4,000 in restitution.

Benham said a few days after his sentencing that an outpouring of support from friends and family and his own statements to the judge about wanting to move forward with his life seemed to have an impact on the judge's decision.

Getting busted on Nov. 12 at the home of Kenneth Mosholder changed his life and set it in a more positive direction, Benham said.

Shortly after that, he returned to a job he once had at the Pizza Pantry in Corfu, successfully completed a drug treatment program and reconciled with his parents, family and friends.

“I’m happy that I was there," Benham said. "I can’t say I’m 100 percent happy about what happened, but I was ruining my life. If I hadn’t been there, it might not have been until I was 30 or even 50 before I realized I wasn’t going anywhere.”

Now, Benham wants to go from being a "meth cook," as he put it, to a kitchen cook.

According to Pizza Pantry owner Bev Snyder, Benham has a natural talent in the kitchen, and he's matured suddenly.

“I see a difference from when he was here before," Snyder said. "I’m not sure if it’s just that he’s older or what he’s been through, but you could just see he’s more interested in the business and how it runs and cares for how it runs rather than just collecting a paycheck.”

Shortly after his arrest, Benham said he sat down and talked with his father about drugs and said he didn't think he had a drug problem, but a problem with priorities -- making drugs too much of a priority.

His father told him he should re-evaluate that position and look at some of the things he had done in the previous couple of years.

“I realized that if I didn’t have a problem with drugs, then I was a real asshole, and I thought, I’m not that person," Benham said. "I’m not an asshole. It was the drugs.”

As his life moves forward, Benham is hoping people will look past his days of drug involvment. Most importantly, he wants to clear his family's name. He doesn't want the name Benham associated with meth, either for the sake of his parents or if he's ever fortunate enough to have children, for his past to reflect poorly on them.

“I don’t want my kids to have a hard life because their father was me," Benham said.

He then added, “Tell people, everybody has a story. No matter how bad it may seem, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Some people can change.”

Friday, April 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Alleged meth lab in South Byron may be tied to first one found in Alabama 18 months ago

post by Howard Owens in Alabama, byron, crime, methamphetamine

The arrest today of two South Byron residents for allegedly manufacturing methamphetamine has its roots in a Nov. 12, 2009 meth lab raid in Alabama, according to Sgt. Steve Mullen, head of the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force.

"If we're doing our jobs, a search warrant doesn't just end with that search warrant," Mullen said. "It opens doors into other investigations."

In the Alabama case -- the first suspected meth lab found in Genesee County -- Kenneth W. Mosholder and associates, including a woman who lived on Jackson Street, Batavia, were accused of manufacturing meth. Mosholder died while awaiting prosecution, but Mullen said the one-time Texas resident's recipe for making meth apparently spread throughout the county.

A handful of meth lab raids -- though not all of them -- since 2009 were based on threads connected to Mosholder's arrest, Mullen said.

"Once something like that grows in a community, it can take deep roots and take years to get out," Mullen said.

Many task force cases are built on other cases, Mullen said.

"Any single arrest looks like a snippet, but they're really scenes from the same movie," Mullen said.

Arrested in connection with the alleged meth lab in South Byron were Matthew J. Zon, 29, of Byron, and Tricia M. Tundo, 24, of Byron.

Zon and Tundo were apprehended during a traffic stop on Thursday night, but the couple wasn't discovered by accident, Mullen said. They were identified after months of investigation and observation while detectives built a case that would ultimately justify their apprehension.

Following the traffic stop, Zon and Tundo were allegedly found in possession of methamphetamine, meth lab material and drug paraphernalia.

Mullen said it's too soon in the investigation to say for certain whether Zon and Tundo were allegedly producing meth for sale. They have not yet been charged with any drug sales counts.

This morning, a contingent of investigators and crime lab specialists were on scene at 6319 E. Main St., South Byron, to execute a search warrant in an effort to determine whether Zon and Tundo were producing meth at their residence.

During the search, investigators carried out several items that appeared to be chemicals and implements used in the manufacture of meth. Test results on the items have not yet been released.

The search started with State Troopers in chemical-protection suits entering the house and retrieving two pet dogs, one a reportedly aggressive pit bull.

A deputy involved who helped transfer the dogs to the Animal Control vehicle said the dogs had a heavy odor of meth on them.

If Tundo and Zon were manufacturing meth in the house, the smell would permeate the entire residence, "just like burnt popcorn," said an investigator.

The odor of meth manufacturing, depending on the process used, according to sources, smells something like a mixture of burnt plastic and ammonia. 

Investigators were at the South Byron scene for hours, from before 8 a.m. until after 3 p.m. and Mullen was still at the office working on the case after 7 p.m.

And the execution of a search warrant in a drug case, said Mullen, is only a small portion of what goes into an investigation. It can take months to build a case in order to get a warrant, and the investigation doesn't stop with an arrest.

"The research and investigation really takes months," the sargeant said. "Even though we're at the end of a 12- or 13-hour day, the research began months ago."

Zon and Tundo are both charged with unlawful disposal of methamphetamine laboratory material, a felony, and criminal possession of a controlled substance as well as criminally using drug paraphernalia.

The disposal charge is based on evidence gathered during the investigation that Zon and Tundo disposed of waste material along roadways in the area.

Mullen said the production of one ounce of meth produces a significant quanity of waste chemicals. 

One law enforcement official at the scene said that was one of the parts that bugged him the most about a case like this.

He said, potentially, some Boy Scout could be out on a clean-up day and come across some contaminated materials and become gravely ill.

The traffic stop Thursday night was initiated by Deputy Brian Thompson, whose K-9 "Pharaoh" assisted in the search of the vehicle.

Tundo was reportedly driving, though she allegedly did not have a valid NYS driver's license. 

Additional charges may be pending, Mullen said, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, which was involved in the 2009 raid in Alabama, will be consulted.

Besides the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and State Police, assisting at the scene were the South Byron Fire Department, Genesee County Emergency Services, the Health Department,  Animal Control and Mercy EMS.

More pictures after the jump:

Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 11:28 pm

FBI agent's affidavit reveals some details of alleged meth ring investigation

post by Howard Owens in Basom, batavia, crime, Le Roy, methamphetamine

venelli_residence.jpg

Note: Reminder, innocent until proven guilty. While we use "allegedly" throughout this report, the nature of recounting the events as alleged by the FBI could leave an impression that the events occurred exactly as reported. That has not yet been proven in court.

For a little over two months, Donald G. Vanelli was a man being closely watched by the FBI.

Agents obtained a court order authorizing a wiretap on his phone on April 22. The FBI mounted a camera on a pole near his home at 8394 Lake Street Road., Le Roy, allowing them to observe who was coming and who was going, and all the trips Vanelli made to his white-washed, two-door garage, where he allegedly stored the methamphetamine he was selling.

By May 7, agents even had two confidential sources allegedly buying -- with federal dollars -- at least one, and sometimes four, "eight-balls" of meth on each visit to the house of the 47-year-old president of the Road Agents Motorcycle Club.

mug_donald_vanelli.jpgAn eight-ball is approximately 1/8 of an ounce of meth.

The details of the surveillance and investigation into the alleged drug-dealing activities of Vanelli are contained in a 99-page affidavit written by FBI agent Mark R. Schirching.

The affidavit, unsealed at the time of Vanelli's arrest, was the basis for warrants for David H. Cohen, 49, of 918 Goodman St., Rochester; Andrew W. Chapman, 40, of 5 Cedar St., Batavia; and Kerry A. Ball, 51, of 7202 Meadville Road, Basom, as well as search warrants for the homes of Vanelli and Donna L. Boon (aka Donna Mcauly), 44, of 3658 Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road, Batavia.

All five suspects were arrested early Friday morning and arraigned in the U.S. District Court in Rochester on a federal charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute narcotics.

Vanelli is reportedly being held without bail, while the other four suspects were released on their own recognizance.

While Vanelli was the central figure in the investigation, and described by one investigator Friday as the center of the ring, Vanelli was not the person dealing with the higher level suppliers.

That job allegedly fell to Boon initially, but when Boon could either no longer allegedly supply Vanelli, or when Boon and Vanelli had some sort of falling out, Vanelli reportedly turned to Cohen, who had a contact -- a man who comes across in the affidavit as unreliable and arrogant -- named Igor. Cohen tagged Igor "The King," according to the affidavit, but the nickname doesn't have the ring of a compliment.

Igor's unreliability leaves the impression that he was buying from another source, not he himself manufacturing meth. It's also unclear from the affidavit whether Vanelli's other alleged supplier, Boon, was allegedly buying from a meth lab or dealt with another middle man.

There's no indication one way or another whether Boon or Cohen were themselves subject to a separate surveillance effort.

It's important to note that the affidavit itself is not the whole of the federal case against the suspects, only that portion which has been made publicly available.

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