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'Godfather of meth-making' pleads guilty April 6, 2005 wjhl.com
ABINGDON - Steven Winfield Tomershea called himself a drug dealer with a conscience.
Federal authorities called him the godfather of meth-making in Washington County.
"He was by far the biggest methamphetamine cooker and dealer we've dealt with in this region," said Special Agent Michael Cash of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Tomershea, 38, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to manufacturing meth and conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute more than 500 grams of the synthetic stimulant.
Tomershea faced life in prison and fines of up to $8 million at trial. He could get a reduced sentence for cooperating with prosecutors but still faces at least 20 years in prison.
Cooks make meth, which mimics adrenaline, by using household chemicals to break down pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in over-the-counter cold and sinus pills. The process releases deadly gases and can lead to fires and explosions.
Most cooks in Washington County - which led the state last year in busts of suspected meth labs - learned to make the drug by watching Tomershea or someone who learned it from him, authorities believe.
"They'll claim they read about it on the Internet," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Bockhorst. "But I don't think we've ever seen anybody who didn't learn by watching. Everyone who knows how to cook teaches someone else how to cook."
Tomershea started dealing meth in the county in 2001, bringing in batches he made in Sweetwater, Tenn., prosecutors said.
He hired about 15 others, paying them in meth, to sell the drug around Southwest Virginia and to buy cold pills and other ingredients to make it.
"He was kicking dope down to these people and they were selling it for him," Cash said.
Tomershea used 50,000 to 60,000 cold pills at a time to make at least a pound of meth - sometimes two - each week, authorities said. He sold the drug for as much as $1,600 per ounce, according to court records.
In one year, he made more than $300,000, Bockhorst said.
"We stopped counting after that," she said.
Tomershea used red phosphorus - called "red P" by cooks - from matchbox strike plates to make meth.
Before he came to Washington County, most meth labs here used anhydrous ammonia, a scarcer and more expensive chemical used in fertilizer, to break down the cold tablets, authorities said.
After Tomershea arrived, red phosphorus labs started appearing around the county - even though cooks complained that he wouldn't share his whole recipe.
"He was highly organized and very particular about what he put into his meth," Bockhorst said. "He called himself a drug dealer with a conscience. He said his meth wouldn't hurt you."
Authorities arrested Tomershea last April, after they found him with just 5 grams of meth in his shirt pocket during a raid on a barn in Meadowview.
Tomershea - who still was on probation for meth convictions in Tennessee - confessed afterward, according to court records.
He still could face charges in Arizona, where authorities said they found his car loaded with cold pills during a traffic stop.
Tomershea said little during Tuesday's hearing. He laughed when U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Sargent asked him how many grams were in a pound.