11/06/2006

Search for Pa. fugitive yields well-armed meth-lab

By Patrick Lester
The Morning Call

A search for a Northampton County Prison escapee led to a much bigger find Thursday when authorities came upon what they described as a well-armed methamphetamine laboratory near the Delaware River in upper Bucks County.

Not only did police find escapee Jennifer T. Ginder Thursday morning, they also arrested two men -- cousins Edward B. Snyder, 30, and Mark D. Snyder, 37 -- and charged them with making and selling drugs out of the apartment at 1717 Firehouse Lane in Bridgeton Township, according to a complaint filed at district court in Nockamixon Township.

Police said Ginder and Edward Snyder were living in the apartment. Mark Snyder lives at 901 W. Broad St., Quakertown, police said.

"It was a fairly decent lab," said Cpl. John Casciano of the state police Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement. "It was a small to medium size lab compared to what I've seen."

Police, who seized handguns and sawed-off shotguns, as well as smoking pipes, bottles of fuel, chemicals, scales and other items used to manufacture drugs, say the investigation is ongoing, but wouldn't say whether additional arrests are likely. Police said they also found two surveillance cameras and video monitors that showed views of the front and side of the house.

Investigators wouldn't say how much of the drug was being made at the apartment and how much was being sold.

One man who lives in the neighborhood said he saw a lot of "traffic" in and out of the brick, three-story apartment building, but said he had no idea what was going on inside.

"It's surprising," said Walter Wright, 37, who lives down the street.

Casciano said methamphetamine operations are highly dangerous because of the flammable and toxic chemicals used to manufacture the addictive stimulant, commonly known as "meth" and "speed."

"There are dangers of explosions," Casciano said. "They use a large range of different volatile organic compounds, for example, acetone and ether, and we know what ether can do. If there's a spark to it, it can explode."

He said a fertilizer commonly used to make methamphetamine poses a risk as well. "It's in a gaseous state and if there's a release of that gas, and inhalation of it, it can kill you," he said.

Casciano said police removed all chemicals found inside the apartment. A sign was posted on the front door warning visitors that a "clandestine laboratory" was found inside and that there "still may be hazardous substances or waste products on this property."

"There could be residual chemicals left behind," Casciano said. "They settle into the carpets and walls. Somebody living there, there potentially could be a hazard to them."

According to court papers:

Working on a tip, deputies from the Northampton County sheriff's department went to the apartment Thursday morning in search of Ginder, who walked away from Northampton County Prison's work release program on July 5.

Ginder previously pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges, one resulting from a 2003 arrest and the other from a 2004 arrest, according to Northampton County court records. Ginder, who also pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia in 2004, was sentenced to probation and sent to Northampton County Prison for violating the terms of probation and parole, according to court records.

The apartment owner let the deputies in about 10:30 a.m. Once inside, they found Ginder and several other people sleeping.

"We were lucky," said John McGeehan, public safety administrator at the prison. "It could have been a real bad shootout."

He said when deputies took Ginder to her bedroom to get some of her belongings, they found weapons, including sawed-off shotguns, at every window. The deputies also saw a white crystal substance, believed to be methamphetamine, in a vial, as well as glass pipes, a spoon with burn marks and razor blades, all signs of drug use.

When deputies questioned Edward Snyder, who shared the room with Ginder, about a locked closed door in the room, he admitted there was "cooking equipment" inside the closet.

Police said Ginder told them Edward Snyder and Mark Snyder made drugs in her room, bagged them, sold them and also smoked them. Ginder told police she smoked crack cocaine Wednesday night and that three glass pipes in the room were hers.

Ginder and the Snyders were sent to Bucks County Prison under $20,000 bail. Mark Snyder was released Friday after posting 10 percent.

The Snyders were charged with two felonies -- a violation of the state's controlled substance, drug, device and cosmetic act and criminal conspiracy. They were also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and a small amount of marijuana. Ginder was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and also faces an escape charge in Northampton County.

All three suspects are scheduled to appear at district court in Nockamixon on Nov. 9, although their preliminary hearing is expected to be postponed to a later date.

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