By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Federal and Arkansas authorities on Tuesday indicted 22 people on 36 counts of trafficking of methamphetamine in Arkansas smuggled from Mexico.
Law enforcement seized 13.3 pounds of methamphetamine, seven vehicles, $163,590, and five guns during the operation, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Those indicted were charged with federal drug offenses and witness tampering.
Seventeen defendants are in custody, according to officials. Five have been summoned to appear, and one, Rhanda Rachael Ramey, is a fugitive.
Meth smuggled from Mexico is not a new problem, said Cherith Beck, a public information officer for the United States Attorney's Eastern District of Arkansas.
But the meth that resulted in Tuesday's arrests is different than the typical meth that people make in small batches using ephedrine. Beck said that the drugs seized was a crystal form of meth called "ice" that is smoked.
"That type is usually made in some organization in Mexico," she told Reuters. "Most of it in Arkansas is coming from Mexico."
Mexican ice methamphetamine is widely available in Arkansas because Mexican traffickers have established a regional distribution hub, according to the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center.
A 2011 report by the National Drug Intelligence Center said that Mexican drug trafficking organizations have increased their ice methamphetamine trafficking operations in Arkansas over the past 12 months.
"They have established distribution operations in small towns and suburban areas in central Arkansas and are supplying ice methamphetamine to drug markets throughout Arkansas and the Midwest," the report said.
Those indicted on Tuesday lived primarily in rural north central Arkansas counties and smaller towns around Little Rock.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)