Sheriff: Traffic stop leads to meth labs, drug seizure

PIXLEY, Calif. (AP) — A traffic stop in central California for a minor offense earlier this month led deputies to a major methamphetamine and fentanyl trafficking operation, including labs inside three homes and drugs with a street value of $1.5 million, authorities said.

A Tulare County Sheriff deputy stopped a car on Jan. 5 for not having a front license plate and that led to an illegal drug operations investigators believe it's tied to a Mexican drug cartel, local and federal authorities announced Thursday.

Deputies searched the car and found several buckets filled with liquid meth. Detectives then served a warrant inside a nearby home and found two working meth labs, crystal meth, liquid meth, marijuana, about 300 fentanyl pills, ammunition and two guns. They also served warrants at two other homes, the Tulare County Sheriff's Office said.

Detectives confiscated 175 pounds (77 kilograms) of crystal meth, 480 pounds (217 kilograms) of liquid meth, five pounds of marijuana and 300 fentanyl pills. The street value of all the drugs seized is valued at more than $1.5 million, the office said.

The car's driver, Saul Solis, 24, of Pixley, and passenger Eduardo Garcia, 20, of McFarland were charged with conspiring to distribute more than 160 pounds (72 kilograms) pounds of methamphetamine and approximately 300 fentanyl pills. It was not immediately known if they have attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

Federal investigators said they believe the labs are connected to a Mexican drug cartel though they didn't name it.

U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said the drug bust showed how cartels are adapting and instead of manufacturing the drugs in Mexico and smuggling them in bulky packages, they are shipping the contraband in liquid form to evade border searches. It’s then processed in so-called conversion labs like those found in Tulare County.

“It’s the latest gambit,” Scott said at a news conference, the Fresno Bee reported.