BY ANGIE JACKSON
---- — BELLAIRE — Antrim County authorities answered a spike in methamphetamine activity with a series of arrests and convictions that they believe should send a message to meth producers and users.
Methamphetamine-related cases swamped the prosecutor's office over the winter. Authorities issued 10 criminal charges from December to February for one-pot meth labs that popped up mostly in Mancelona. The wave proved disturbing for authorities who were relatively new to the meth world -- the sheriff department's first meth arrest occurred in late 2010.
Seven defendants recently were sentenced to jail or prison, and sentences for two are pending, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney James Rossiter said. Charges against one woman were dismissed.
"Everybody entered pleas," Rossiter said, adding that investigations were solidified in a couple cases in which deputies walked into active lab scenes and authorities obtained video evidence from stores where meth-producing materials were purchased.
Some defendants were sentenced to prison for a first-time felony conviction, which is rare, Rossiter said. Sentences ranged from jail time for one person, and a minimum of two or three years in prison to 20 years maximum for others.
"It should drive home the point that for something as serious as meth, the sentences are serious," said Rossiter, who anticipates more charges to come.
Sheriff Dan Bean said deputies haven't discovered meth activity since February.
"I'm not going to tell you they're not there," Bean said. "But I think that we have made a dent in part of our drug problem."
Bean said authorities "have stepped up" to address meth activity.
"The community itself and law enforcement are tired of the revolving door," he said.
Bean said the sheriff's department focused on raising awareness. Employees completed training on how to recognize and handle meth. Bean distributed posters to convenience stores to make retailers aware of products commonly used for production.
The drug wasn't widely distributed in the recent county cases, Rossiter said. Regardless, it affects those who could be exposed to the process: next door neighbors, a hotel room's future tenants and people who come across a discarded meth lab, he said.
And it takes a toll on families.
"You come to the sentencing and when you see somebody that has a family, whether they have children of their own or they have a family that has been trying to get them out of that lifestyle," Rossiter said. "You realize that drug crimes aren’t victimless."