Cops stumble upon meth in wealthy neighborhood

Tucked away in the affluent Laurel Heights neighborhood — just hundreds of feet from a playground — police discovered one of the only meth labs in The City, which shocked residents.

Police in San Francisco were not even searching for the lab when they stumbled upon it Wednesday on the lower level of a two-story residential flat located near the Laurel Hill Playground.

The lab was discovered while patrol officers in the Richmond district were investigating a potential identity-theft operation.

While questioning “suspicious people” outside 24 Manzanita Ave., the officers found “reasonable suspicion” to search the home. Inside, they found “significant amounts of chemicals” used to make methamphetamine, including cold medicine, large beakers, paint thinner, gas masks and a biochemistry textbook.

Large amounts of GHB, commonly known as the “date rape drug,” also were found.

“When they initially started off, they were looking for something totally different,” Dangerfield said.

Four San Francisco residents — including John Prato, 37, Ryan Elleson, 32, Rosario Hipple, 44, and April Linton, 33 — were arrested along with Todd Molley, 47, whose residence is unknown. They are facing various drug charges and charges of fraud, receiving stolen property and conspiracy, according to police.

Dangerfield said the small number of meth labs in The City does not reflect the growing trend of the drug in the rest of the country.

Kathy Devincenzi, vice president of the Laurel Heights Improvement Association, said the neighborhood — where three-bedroom condos sell for $750,000 — has a very low crime rate.

“I was very surprised to hear about it,” she said. “I haven’t heard of anything like this happening in the neighborhood before, and I’ve owned my property since 1955.”

Though meth has shaken California cities, San Francisco has only identified three labs in the past two decades. San Francisco only had one lab even at the height of meth production in the late 1990s, when the attorney general reported 2,063 lab seizures in California.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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