Alleged meth lab case going to trial

Two men accused of making methamphetamine at a Juniata home will face trial.

Prosecutors laid out the case against Philip M. Shultz, 35, and Scott R. Perkins, 32, both of Altoona, during an hour-and-a-half preliminary hearing Wednesday at Central Court, with police and a state police forensic scientist testifying the scene at 127 N. Fifth Avenue the morning of April 2 had all the hallmarks of a meth lab.

Apart from an alleged small amount of meth and a pipe found on Perkins when police arrived about 7 a.m. for a report of an unwanted person – Shultz – at the home, a subsequent search by police turned up sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, fertilizer, lithium batteries, starter fluid and various jars connected with rubber hoses on the property.

Brett Bailor, a forensic scientist with the state police crime lab in Erie who responded to the scene along with the rest of the state police Clandestine Lab Response Team, said suspected meth-making supplies and gear were found in the basement, the garage and the attic, where a backpack holding starter fluid and drain cleaner was located.

Bailor told Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker that the method used to make meth, judging from what was found, is referred to as the “Nazi method,” a variation of the one-pot manufacturing method that uses pseudoephedrine and ammonia anhydrous gas.

The fertilizer was used to make the gas, Bailor said, and although not everything taken from the home has been tested, the items found indicated meth had been made at the house.

Defense attorneys Warren T. Crilly III, representing Perkins, and Ed Ferguson, an assistant public defender representing Shultz, attacked the evidence against their clients as merely circumstantial. The attorneys repeatedly asked questions to raise the issue that the items police are saying could be used to make meth are actually legal products and household items.

“Most of the items we recover from meth labs are ordinary products – household products,” Bailor said.

Bailor testified that while methamphetamine residue was found in rubber tubing found in the garage, white powder residue found in a coffee grinder, while it had not been tested, was suspected pseudoephedrine.

Crilly continuously hammered away at the fact police never found any pseudoephedrine on the property, but a Walgreens receipt for the drug – found in certain cold medicines – that was dated two days before the bust as well as the empty box were found in the trash, according to police.

Altoona Police Detective Sgt. Matthew Starr testified that federal law requires stores to track pseudoephedrine purchases and be connected to a database so people can’t buy more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period, or more than 3.6 grams per day.

Perkins and his sister, Misty R. Perkins, 33, both allegedly started buying pseudoephedrine regularly between September of last year, and both had incidents when they tried to buy more than allowed by law within the time periods.

Misty Perkins, who previously waived her preliminary hearing, bought pseudoephedrine Jan. 24 and then tried, and was turned away, twice again that same day until she bought a package with a lesser amount that allowed her to fall within the 3.6 gram per day limit, Starr testified.

Shultz, Starr testified, last bought pseudoephedrine in 2010, something his attorney tried to use to show as further evidence that Shultz was not part of any meth making conspiracy with the Perkins siblings.

It was also something Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks, through questioning, used to show Shultz was involved. Starr testified it was Shultz who knew how to make meth and was aware the purchases of pseudoephedrine were tracked. He knew because he was arrested in 2010 for making meth and ultimately served a state prison sentence after pleading guilty to methamphetamine-related charges.

A state narcotics investigator with the Attorney General’s Office testified meth operations need more than one person since gathering supplies such as pseudoephedrine is difficult to do alone without raising red flags. People who buy pseudoephedrine for meth cooks are called “Smurfs,” Adams noted. While meth wasn’t actively being made when police found the lab, Adams said there was enough evidence to suggest the drug had recently been made.

Ferguson’s efforts to distance his client from the Perkins’ was further hampered when police showed Altoona police paperwork where Shultz indicated his address was 127 N. Fifth Avenue.

Altoona patrolman Patrolman Thomas Venios told the court when he first arrived at the home, Misty Perkins told him Shultz had run to the backyard, and after checking it out Venios discovered Scott Perkins in the garage, acting strangely. Shultz, he said, was hiding under a car in the garage.

Several suspicious jars connected by rubber hoses in plain view in the garage, along with the meth found on Perkins during a pat down for weapons, led him to think there might be a meth lab on the property, Venios testified.

Auker found police had enough evidence to send the case to court, remanding both Scott Perkins and Shultz to Blair County Prison. All three suspects are being held on 100,000 cash bonds.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.