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Authorities: 2nd conversion lab found in multimillion-dollar meth organization
Clara Mendoza
Clara Mendoza

Drug enforcement officials said Tuesday they discovered a second alleged conversion lab for methamphetamine in an investigation into a reported multimillion-dollar drug organization.

The Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office said Saturday it had taken part in an investigation leading to a lab in Suches, where liquid meth is turned to its crystal form.

On Tuesday, FBI agents assisted the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office and the drug enforcement office in two searches in Dahlonega.

A residence destroyed on Iberian Road is now the subject of an arson investigation by the state fire marshal’s office, according to authorities.

Agents reportedly found a second lab on Antique Way, with materials consistent with the lab in Suches.

The agents said they processed some 300 pounds of environmental waste at the Suches lab that largely contained methamphetamine oil.

“The exception is agents located seven empty 55-gallon drums, three of which tested positive for methamphetamine,” the drug enforcement office said in a news release regarding the Antique Way lab.

Officers also found two AR-15 rifles, a shotgun and a handgun.

“It is fair to say that this North Georgia Law Enforcement Team has dismantled a criminal organization that at a minimum has produced and distributed 385 gallons of methamphetamine onto the streets of our communities,” according to the drug enforcement office. “Conservatively, this equates to hundreds of kilograms of crystal methamphetamine.  The street value of this amount of methamphetamine is in the millions.”

The Dahlonega properties were allegedly linked to Clara Catarino Mendoza, 32, a 5-foot-1 Hispanic woman weighing 125 pounds, according to authorities.

“Agents believed that Mendoza has fled with her two juvenile children,” the drug enforcement office said.

Warrants were issued for Mendoza on conspiracy to manufacture meth and conspiracy to traffic meth.

Agents said she may be driving a 2006 yellow H2 Hummer with Georgia tag PYX5020; a 2003 gray Ford Superduty Truck with Georgia tag PKM9409; or a white BMW four-door sedan, for which agents did not know the model and tag.

Authorities asked anyone with information on Mendoza to call the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office at 706-864-3633, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-597-8477, the FBI at 1-800-225-5324 or your local police department or sheriff’s office.

Angel Luis Rivera-Santiago, 42, of Norcross, and Victor Rafael Aponte, 30, of Dahlonega, were the subject of an earlier traffic stop, which led to 15 kilograms of meth.

Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office authorities and FBI agents later searched a Flanders Road home in Dahlonega.

“Valentine Duarte-Vejar ran from this residence but was (captured) in the possession of a handgun,” according to an earlier news release from the regional drug enforcement office. “This search warrant yielded a few grams of cocaine and $166,000.”

Rivera-Santiago, Aponte and Valentine Duarte-Vejar, 25, of Dahlonega, were charged with trafficking meth.

Eleoncio Perez-Pineda, 29, of Dahlonega, and Jose Mario Duarte-Vejar, 25, of Dahlonega, were arrested in Dahlonega and charged with conspiracy to manufacture meth.

All five men were taken to the Lumpkin County Detention Center, where the immigration status of the men is “still pending,” according to the drug enforcement office.

The case is still under investigation, as there are additional charges pending in Union County.