By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors in New York said they have uncovered a new means to conceal methamphetamine, announcing criminal charges on Wednesday against five people they say conspired to hide the drug in more than 1,300 pounds (590 kg) of wax candles.
New York City police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 27 cardboard boxes containing the candles in a New Jersey warehouse through a sting involving an undercover officer posing as a buyer, prosecutors said.
The officer discussed with the defendants how the warehouse would be used for four days ending on Sept. 2 to convert the candles into crystal meth, prosecutors said.
A field test of one candle revealed a "detectable amount" of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant, they added.
"DEA has seen drugs smuggled in numerous ways: concealed in puppies, lollipops, furniture, and produce," James Hunt, special agent-in-charge of the DEA's New York field office, said in a statement. "But secreting a million dollars' worth of methamphetamine in wax candles of various shapes is shocking."
The defendants Agustin Zamora-Vega, 30; Orlando Alcantara, 33; Cindy Carrillo, 27; Santos Minjarez, 26, and Jose Luis Gonzalez-Solis, 28, were each arrested overnight in New Jersey and charged with one drug conspiracy count, carrying a mandatory 10-year minimum prison term, prosecutors said.
Lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be identified.
Methamphetamine abuse has been linked to health problems including heart failure, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
A recent study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry linked methamphetamine use to a possible higher risk of strokes in young adults. ((http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-meth-stroke-idUSKCN1BA2AF))
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)