Oakland Tribune Outtakes

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Huge Ecstasy bust in West Oakland

By Kathleen Kirkwood
Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 1:29 pm in Crime/Courts.

In one of the largest Ecstasy seizures ever in California, 45 kilograms of the drug with a minimum street value of almost $2 million were found at a West Oakland house Friday during a series of law enforcement raids from Willits to the East Bay, authorities said Tuesday.

Besides the powder form of the drug found in Oakland, a huge manufacturing lab was dismantled in Willits in Mendocino County, and at least nine people, including the ringleader suspect from El Cerrito, his brother and two Emeryville residents, were arrested.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown said the suspects were part of a “dangerous drug ring” that operated Ecstasy labs around Northern California. Brown said the ring “posed a threat topeople and the environment.”

Besides the Ecstasy powder, authorities found 28 pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms, 30 pounds of marijuana and $531,000 in cash at the West Oakland house in the 1000 block of 39th Street. At a warehouse on Yerba Buena Avenue in Emeryville, authorities found 50 marijuana plants and what is suspected to be LSD in powder and liquid form.

State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement Special Agent in Charge John George said Tuesday the powder seized could be used to make at least 88,000 Ecstasy pills that could sell for $15 to $40 each. He said the mushrooms had a street value of at least $156,000 and the marijuana at least $90,000.

Arrested at the Oakland house were Leon Haskell, 34, and Tappie Dufresne, 37, of Emeryville.

The series of raids culminated an investigation that began in November. The state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement initially teamed with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office after an anonymous tip alerted agents to a possible lab operating in Mendocino County.

Agents monitored the site and identified the cook as Jonathan Passel, 46, of El Cerrito, whom George said is the ringleader suspect. He was followed to several locations, including the Oakland residence, residences in Willits, Redwood Valley and El Cerrito, and warehouses in San Rafael and Emeryville, agents said.

Based on surveillance and other evidence, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement agents, the West Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force and seven other Northern California police agencies served nine warrants Friday in four counties.

Passel was arrested at what police say is the Mendocino County lab site.

Agents there seized a .45-caliber pistol, thousands of dollars worth of chemicals, commercial-grade laboratory glassware, and more than 100 gallons of toxic, poisonous and flammable liquids and solids. Hazardous chemicals and laboratory equipment filled 40 large barrels.

Paul Passel, 64, Jonathan Passel’s brother, was arrested at a house in the 1800 block of Key Boulevard in El Cerrito but was cited at the scene and released due to medical issues. Agents seized 11/2 pounds of marijuana and lab glassware at the residence.

None of the suspects would talk to authorities. They were booked at Mendocino County Jail on suspicion of a variety of charges, including manufacturing and possession of a controlled substance and conspiracy, authorities said.

- By Harry Harris, Oakland Tribune, Jan. 29, 2009

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