Police in northeast Oklahoma say they have broken an elaborate meth trafficking ring; the biggest such ring in the area in the last 15 years. The investigation involved the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics, along with city and tribal police.
Police tell KOAM, the CBS affiliate in Joplin, Missouri this was a multi-person, multi-state drug bust with key players of the crime setting-up shop in Miami.
"To see it right here in our backyard, yeah, I was surprised. But, it's just something that we're just like every other area, we're susceptible just like every other part of the nation," says Miami Police Chief Thomas Anderson.
"That was one of really the scariest parts of this, is there's so much meth out there, and they were damn near giving it away," says Ottawa County District Attorney Kenny Wright.
Wright says 33-year-old Slint Tate organized the regular trafficking of at least five pounds of meth a week, with street values totaling between $250,000 and $1-million.
"When you get up to an 'eight ball,' which is 3 and a half grams, you start seeing a little bit of a discount," says Wright.
Wright says Tate was selling $300 worth of meth for $100.
Police say meth was cooked in Mexico, then transported to dealers throughout the streets of Miami, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas.
"Because of the quantities involved, we don't really see that in local cooks anymore," says Wright.
Wright and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics got word from informants that Tate was organizing the business from his contraband cellphone in his McAlester, Oklahoma prison cell, where he's been incarcerated since he was 16 for killing a Delaware County Sheriff's reserve deputy.
Law enforcement knew of the potential large-scale scope of the business, so they got a judge's permission to track the number of calls and text messages to and from Tate's cellphone.
"300 communications (in the first hour). It seems mind-boggling," says Wright.
Police say Tate talked to his girlfriend, who lives in a Miami home with her kids.
"One of the phone calls, you're actually able to hear the kids while she's dealing drugs," says Wright.
Law enforcement say they've arrested 16 people so far in connection to this drug ring.
"We will continue at that pace of three or four every couple of days," says Wright.
Police say they decided to call-off surveillance on the alleged drug ring when they heard them organizing a hit.
"It started off looking like there was going to be a homicide," says Wright.
"It was just a huge, huge, operation for us and arrest," says Anderson.
Tate was already serving a life sentence in prison, and police think he had nothing to lose by running this drug ring. He may had been trying to support his girlfriend and kids.
Other people who have now been arrested face charges associated with organized crime.
The Ottawa County district attorney says keeping cellphones out of prisons has become a real problem. He says last year, 7,000 cell phones were seized across all the state's prisons.