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'Godfather of meth-making' gets 30 years July 20, 2005 - tricities.com
Federal authorities called him the godfather of meth-making in the region, but Steven Winfield Tomershea told a judge Tuesday that he was more like Santa Claus.
"I tried to do good with bad money," he told senior U.S. District Judge Glen Williams during his sentencing. "I bought things for people who didn't have anything. I had Christmases for children who didn't have a Christmas."
Tomershea, 39, smiled and whistled a tune Tuesday as headed to federal prison for 30 years.
Authorities said the Foxborough, Mass., native turned Washington County into Virginia's methamphetamine capital in just a few years.
"He's the godfather of meth," said Special Agent Michael Cash of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "He's the man. By arresting and sentencing him, we've made a major impact on the meth trade in Southwest Virginia."
Tomershea testified he made nearly $400,000 per year dealing and cooking the drug around Southwest Virginia between 2002 and 2004. He produced more than 50 pounds of the illegal stimulant, selling it for more than $1,700 per ounce, and built up a network of distributors across the region.
The dealing ended in April 2004, when authorities nabbed Tomershea in a barn in Meadowview with 5 grams of meth in his shirt pocket. He pleaded guilty a year later to manufacturing meth and conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute more than 500 grams of the drug.
His lawyer, Pete Curcio, called the "godfather" nickname unfair.
"There's no evidence of him using a gun or any violence," Curcio said. "He has been remorseful and cooperated. He was just a drug maker and a good one."
Meth, which mimics adrenaline, is made by mixing household chemicals to break down pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in most over-the-counter cold and sinus pills. The process can release toxic gases and lead to fires and explosions.
Most cooks learn by watching another. Authorities have said they believe they can trace nearly every suspected meth lab in Washington and Smyth counties, which have led the state in arrests, back to Tomershea or someone who learned how to make the drug from him.
Southwest Virginia continues to lead the state in raids on suspected labs, with 57 this year, according to the Virginia State Police.
Tomershea, who called himself the best meth cook on the East Coast, said he learned to make meth in Southern California in early 2002. He was living in Sweetwater, Tenn., and traveling across the country as a truck driver.
"He went to school for it," Cash said. "He was studying methamphetamine."
In exchange for the lessons, Tomershea said he sent a cut of his profits back to his teachers on the West Coast.
He said he came to Washington County later that year to start selling his product here. The lower supply made for an ideal market, authorities said.
"He could double his profits," Cash said.
Tomershea said he made some of the drug in Virginia and some in Tennessee, sometimes cooking 20,000 to 30,000 pseudoephedrine tablets at a time.
"I knew it was wrong," he said.
By 2004, Tomershea estimated he was dealing "about 70 percent" of his meth in Southwest Virginia.
Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman watched the number of suspected meth labs in his county explode from less than five in 2002 to 24 last year. He believes Tomershea taught at least 20 people to cook the drug.
"The meth problem was developing, but he certainly enhanced it," the sheriff said.
Those people each taught as many as five others, authorities believe. The drug spread into neighboring Smyth County, which has led the state in raids of suspected labs this year.
"His name would come up a lot," said Smyth County Commonwealth's Attorney Roy Evans. "His name came up all the time."
Before Tomershea arrived, most area cooks used anhydrous ammonia, an expensive chemical found in fertilizers and refrigerants, to make meth. He helped popularize a cheaper method using red phosphorus, known as "red P," from matchbox strike plates, authorities said.
Addicts called his meth the best in the region. Drug agents called it some of the purest they've seized.
"He was the best we've seen," Cash said. "He thought he had a responsibility to make a higher level of meth."
Tomershea insisted he never intentionally taught anyone how to make the drug.
"That would have been bad for business," said Curcio, his lawyer.
But watching the cooking process was enough for most, Tomershea admitted.
"I wouldn't say they learned, but they picked up pointers," he said.
Tomershea was convicted of dealing meth in Tennessee, but served only seven months before leaving jail there on probation. He had just returned to Virginia when he was arrested in Meadowview.
He confessed soon afterward.
"He was proud of it," Newman said.
Tomershea didn't look proud when he appeared in court Tuesday. He admitted his addiction and asked for drug treatment in prison.
"I'd just like to apologize for my actions," he said. "I'm here to take full responsibility."
Raids on suspected labs have dropped in the year since Tomershea's arrest, authorities said, but they expect the problem to keep spreading, even with him in prison.
"We've definitely seen a drop," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Bockhorst said. "Tomershea was the pinnacle. But it's not just Tomershea."