2 People Accused Of Stealing Fertilizer To Make Drugs

EDON, Ohio (AP) - Two men were charged with stealing fertilizer from a farm co-op for use in methamphetamine.

Chad Lee Wirtz, 22, of Angola, Ind., and Richard Conley, 27, of Lagrange, Ind., were charged with attempted illegal manufacture of drugs.

Williams County Sheriff Alan Word said deputies caught the men stealing anhydrous ammonia at the Edon Farmers Co-op fertilizer plant early Sunday.

The deputies had the facility under surveillance after receiving several reports of fertilizer theft in the last few months, the sheriff said.

"They were stealing from the tanks," he said.

Anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in the rock-like form of methamphetamine, is commonly used as fertilizer, said Rick Dunbar, manager of the Edon Farmers Co-op.

"It's the most inexpensive form of nitrogen that farmers use to raise corn," he said. "It's a liquefied gas that's in a pressure tank."

Farms across the Midwest have been victimized by fertilizer thieves who want to make methamphetamine. An ounce of the drug can sell for $2,000 or more.

"It's happened a lot of places before it happened here," he said. "So when it happened, you knew why it was happening."

Word said anhydrous ammonia is dangerous and can cause severe burns and even death by asphyxiation.

"It can be extremely volatile. It can take your breath away, it can freeze your skin," he said. "It's nothing you want to mess with."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)