Investigators are confident the eight people in federal custody are all of the major players involved in a major methamphetamine ring in Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
Packages full of crystal meth were mailed to Southwest Michigan from out-of-state, sent to homes in Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties to be picked up by dealers who then cut the meth into smaller amounts to be sold, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
Investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Kalamazoo Valley Enforcement Team, and the Southwest Enforcement Team raided eight homes and businesses in Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren Counties Monday morning.
An old church turned into a recording studio in the 4100 block of N. Westnedge Ave. was used as a “stash location” to house large quantities of crystal meth, according to the criminal complaint, which lists Thomas Lee Cowley, of Battle Creek, as the property owner.
The 200-page criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court names Cowley and Noel Saldana, 36, of Lawrence, as the co-conspirators and the co-leaders of the meth drug trafficking operation.
The two major players in the drug ring, investigators say, Cowley and Saldana directed the operations and their workers to distribute multi-pound quantities of crystal methamphetamine in Southwest Michigan.
The complaint says Cowley and Saldana recruited multiple workers and distributers; on average the pair acquired and distributed more than five kilograms of crystal methamphetamine every month.
Police surveillance, a confidential source, GPS trackers, text messages and phone taps were used in the investigation to take down the massive drug ring.
Three large plastic bags that contained a total of nine pounds of crystal meth were boxed up and dropped in the mail, sent to Kalamazoo by the U.S. Postal Services.
One of many shipments, investigators intercepted a package at a U.S. Post Office in Kalamazoo in October, which was valued at more than $100,000 on the streets of southwest Michigan.
The nine pounds of crystal meth was addressed to a home in the 1600 block of Lane Blvd. in Kalamazoo.
During the course of the 10-month investigation a confidential source bought more than 2.26 pounds of meth from Saldana.
Saldana sent a text in May to the source that read “you want that one,” under a picture of a large chunk of crystal meth.
An informant told police that Saldana is one of the largest meth dealers in Van Buren County.
Saldana has long and violent criminal history in Michigan and Arizona, which is where the shipments of meth were mailed from.
Saldana and Cowley are the main source of supply for the six others arrested.
The eight names listed in the criminal complaint are: Noel Francisco Saldana, a.k.a. "Misery,"; Thomas Lee Cowley, a.k.a. "Heathn" and his brother, Thomas Lewillan Cowley Jr; Sheryll Lynn Ayad; Michael Donnell Neeley, a.k.a. "Greazy"; Robert Eugene Nichols; David Leroy Strickler and Justin Owen Smith.
Each face one count of conspiracy to distribute and possession of at least 50 grams of meth with intent to distribute, punishable up to life in prison.