Agents Say Meth Labs are linked to U.C. Merced Student

August 11, 2008 8:23:27 PM PDT
North Valley narcotics agents have seized three methamphetamine labs in the past five days. They say all of the labs were using chemicals and equipment that Jason West stole during his time as a graduate student at U.C. Merced.Undercover narcotics agents sorted through the toxic remains of this meth lab Monday morning. They found chemicals and glassware worth thousands of dollars ... most of which they believe 36 year old Jason West stole from U.C. Merced.

Undercover agent/Merced Co. Sheriff's narcotics enforcement team: "He had been stealing chemicals and lab items and equipment from university labs for the past 3 years and had been stockpiling that at his residence and other locations in the county."

Authorities say West was a very bright student, who was close to finishing his doctorate degree in chemistry. But they say he used his knowledge to develop a new method for manufacturing meth ... one that doesn't require pseudoephederine. Agents say West invented the process to avoid being tracked through the log books people must now sign in order to buy the over-the-counter medicine.

Agent: "It's kind of scary that he had this chemical background and was so knowledgeable, and I was told it was brilliant, but he turned it to manufacturing methamphetamine. He's actually put a twist on it because now there's a new type of meth that he's manufactured and put on the streets."

U.C. Merced officials say they're very disturbed that a student would use his education and the University's resources in such a destructive way.

Patti Waid Istas/U.C. Merced Communications Exec. Dir.: "It's very sad, it's very concerning to see that a student who has such potential for achievement in his life would choose to go down a path of destruction and potential damage to other people in this community."

West was arrested at his home in Atwater last week, but authorities say his actions had already started a chain reaction that's adding dangerous variables to the area's drug problem.

Agent: "Now with this, it's just exploded. Now we've got people not associated with Jason West who are in possession of these high grade chemicals for manufacturing."

Agents are still searching for 50 year old Francis Womack in connection with this methamphetamine lab. And they expect to find more people and labs with ties to Jason West as their investigation continues.

U.C. Merced says it is taking a closer look at security in its labs, but officials say no illegal activity took place on campus.

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