05/11/2006

Hospital setup found during Calif. meth lab bust

Diana Walsh, Chronicle Staff Writer

Copyright 2006 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved 

An East Palo Alto home where police found a "super" drug lab last week also housed an elaborate hospital-like operation -- stocked with thousands of dollars in medical equipment, surgical tools and supplies -- that authorities believe was to be used to treat injured criminals.

The top floor of the Runnymede Street home was filled with "boxes upon boxes upon boxes" of medical supplies and contained a room equipped with a hospital bed, fresh linens, scalpels, IV stands and surgical tools, according to Lt. Tom Alipio of the East Palo Alto police department.

"It was set up just like a hospital room,'' said Alipio, who said a second room was in the process of being set up. "We found a kit that a surgeon would use to reassemble a joint -- like a hip or a shoulder."

The room also contained hospital gowns for patients, surgical scrubs and baby carriers for infants -- but apparently no medicines routinely used during surgical procedures.

The owner of the home, Benjamin C. Ruezga, was among six men police arrested in Friday's raid, in which authorities found a fortified lab with five pounds of methamphetamine and nearly 70,000 cold tablets that contain the key ingredient for making the drug.

Ruezga, an employee at Stanford Hospital, was wearing his hospital identification around his neck when police burst into his home. Alipio said Ruezga worked in a warehouse at the hospital, but police also found documents showing he had been a nurse in Mexico.

Authorities are investigating whether the items were taken from Stanford Hospital. Andrea Smith, communications manager for the hospital, said officials are cooperating with police but declined to comment further on the investigation.

Police also found several books on how to treat the human body.

Alipio, who said the items appeared to have been stockpiled to treat gunshot or chemical wounds, said everything appeared brand-new, but he couldn't be sure if the room had been used to treat any patients.

Alipio said he was stunned by the sheer volume of the items, which he said would fill a semi-trailer truck.

"This goes above and beyond the taking of a garbage bag or a bottle of soap,'' said Alipio.

Investigators said wounded criminals could use such a place to avoid going to regular hospitals, which are required to report suspected criminals to authorities.

The room and supplies were discovered in the upstairs front unit of a house that had been divided into three units and also contained a drug lab that had been fortified with concrete cinder blocks, steel doors and metal bars. The entire property had been wired with an elaborate security camera system that police said was not being monitored at the time of the raid.

A single mother of five young children had been living in the back of the home at the time of the raid but was not connected to the drug operation, police said.

East Palo Alto police said they do not know how long the lab had been operating. The raid was the result of a monthlong investigation that began in Soledad (Monterey County) after a pharmacist there told police a customer had asked to buy 10 bottles of Sudafed. The common cold medicine contains pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used to make methamphetamines.

During the raid, authorities confiscated five pounds of methamphetamines valued at $225,000; 70,000 pseudoephedrine pills, which can yield 12 pounds of methamphetamines and as much as $550,000 on the street; a pound of cocaine worth $45,000, several assault weapons and handguns; and $25,000 in cash.

Ruezga and the five other suspects appeared in a Redwood City courtroom Monday and pleaded not guilty to drug and weapons charges. Each of the men is being held on bail ranging from $5.6 million to $5.7 million. 
 
May 10, 2006

 

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