Loss of meth precursors proves costly for Taminco

Some of the missing chemical shipment was found in the US-Mexico border town of Nogales. Image courtesy of Flickr - Ryan Bavetta.
Some of the missing chemical shipment was found in the US-Mexico border town of Nogales. Image courtesy of Flickr - Ryan Bavetta.

A US-based chemicals company has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for losing large amounts of meth precursors during distribution en-route to Mexico.

In a story that reads like a Breaking Bad plotline, Taminco, a chemical manufacturer based in Pennsylvania will face criminal penalties after admitting to improperly shipping 100 tons of a chemical that is often used in the production of meth amphetamine.

The company was charged a total of $860,000 – made up of a criminal fine of $650,000 and forfeitures worth $210,374. This ruling was handled out last week, after the company was charged last month with mishandling the chemical monomethylamine.

“(Taminco) violated the law when it chose to ship DEA-regulated precursor chemicals, which it knew could be used to manufacture methamphetamine, without following procedures designed to ensure that these chemicals do not end up in the hands of drug dealers,” said first assistant US attorney, Louis D. Lappen, according Lehigh Valley Live.

The chemical itself, monomethylamine, is a controlled substance by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and thus faces severe restrictions on its sale.

It is used as a precursor agent for a number of legitimate chemical products, however is notorious for its role in the production of the drug meth amphetamine, also known as ‘ice’.

In the popular television show, Breaking Bad, monomethylamine (or ‘methylamine’ for short) is used by characters Walter White and Jesse Pinkman as they use reductive amination of phenylacetone (P2P) to yield methamphetamine – a process they devised to circumvent the need to buy pseudoephedrine.

The breaches of law regarding the shipping of monomethylamine by Taminco date back almost five years.

According to allegations by US federal prosecutors, in 2010 the company shipped 100 tons of the substance to customers in Mexico in 6 separate loads.

In 2011, the company allegedly became aware that at least some of this shipment had gone missing whilst en-route to Mexico, however failed to notify the DEA.

From there, the case developed like something out the playbook of Walter White. In December 2011, customs agents in Arizona found 5 barrels of the missing shipment in an abandoned home in San Luis.

Then in 2012, a further 6 barrels of the missing chemical shipment were found by DEA agents in Nogales, a town which straddles the US-Mexico border.

It is likely that both discoveries were intended to be smuggled across the border into Mexico for illicit drug production, however little information has been revealed by the DEA on which criminal organisation was involved.

Following the ruling, Taminco has agreed with the DEA to follow more stringent standards for the production and transport of monomethylamine in the future.