Pseudoephedrine smurfinga has become increasingly organized and widespread in California, particularly since 2007, fueling an increase in the number of large-scale methamphetamine laboratories in the state.1 Among the increased number of large-scale laboratories are those operated by Mexican criminal groups that have relocated to California from Mexico since 2007. Mexican criminal groups and some independent operators are increasingly acquiring bulk quantities of pseudoephedrine through smurfing. Despite strong efforts by law enforcement to curtail smurfing, there is no indication that this practice will decline in the near term. In fact, pseudoephedrine acquired through smurfing in California in 2009 was sent in bulk to methamphetamine producers in Mexico, an indication that some criminal groups in Mexico still find it easier to acquire pseudoephedrine through smurfing in California than from other sources.
Pseudoephedrine smurfing increased significantly in California in 2008 and early 2009. The incidence of individuals and criminal groups organizing pseudoephedrine smurfing operations that supply pseudoephedrine to California-based methamphetamine producers has increased throughout California. These smurfing operations began to gain prominence in late 2007, when pseudoephedrine availability and methamphetamine production decreased in Mexico. (See text box.) For instance, in October 2007, a Fresno County investigation revealed that a couple had been conducting daily precursor chemical smurfing operations, soliciting homeless individuals to travel from store to store to purchase pseudoephedrine. In exchange, the couple paid each person approximately $30 and sometimes gave the individuals alcohol. Evidence seized from the couple's vehicle included packages of pseudoephedrine, pharmacy listings torn from an area telephone directory, and several cellular telephones. (See Figure 1.) Similar smurfing operations increased in 2008 and have continued at high levels in 2009. In fact, law enforcement officials in 21 large California cities report that pseudoephedrine smurfing increased in their areas in 2008 and 2009. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 1. Smurfing Evidence Seized From a Vehicle in 2007
Photo of packages of pseudoephedrine, pharmacy listings torn from a telephone directory, and cellular telephones.
Source: Fresno Meth Task Force.