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Major ephedrine bust centered in Forest Grove

Drugs traveled from India to Mexico to aid meth producers, say federal prosecutors, while money was deposited in Oregon bank account

A Forest Grove man was sentenced last week to 48 months in prison for his involvement in an international smuggling ring that imported large quantities of ephedrine to the United States from India. Ephedrine is the main precursor chemical needed to produce methamphetamine.

Verlyn 'Craig' Payton, 47, was one of five defendants convicted of conspiracy to illegally import and distribute ephedrine but Payton and Antonio Gonzalez, 57, of Tijuana, Mexico were also convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Payton's Forest Grove based business Spring Dragon Sourcing was used to import the chemical and to launder money. He deposited thousands of dollars of laundered money in the Wells Fargo in Forest Grove according to the indictment.

Spring Dragon Sourcing was operated out of Payton's home on Kalex Lane in Forest Grove which was initially seized by investigators. The company claimed to be an herbal extract and nutraceutical distribution company. Through negotiations the home was released back to Payton's family according to United States Attorney John F. Deits.

Payton's wife, Elina Zebergs-Payton, was never involved with any of the criminal activity, according to Deits.

'I've lost everything,' Zebergs-Payton said. 'I'm preparing myself for the task of being a single parent while my husband is in jail.'

Zebergs-Payton said their family has lived in Forest Grove for 8 years and would like to stay here.

She's been a fine artists for over 30 years so a few months ago Zebergs-Payton opened her own house and mural painting business, EZ Interiors, to support herself and her children.

'I just need to support my two children and keep my life going,' she said. 'My children are still in school and I don't want any of this to hurt them or to bring them any attention in all of this.'

Zebergs-Payton refused to comment on the case.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service began investigating the group in 2008 because of suspicious banking activity between Mexico, India and Forest Grove. The group was also under suspicion for smuggling liquid ephedrine labeled as 'green tea extract' into Chicago O'Hare International Airport from India.

After importation into the U.S., the product was shipped to San Diego, Calif. where Gonzalez received it. Gonzalez was revealed to be a licensed U.S. Customs Broker who sent the substance to Mexico where it was manufactured into meth that was shipped back to the U.S. for sale.

In November 2009, all five defendants were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they were attending an international chemical extract conference. After sentencing three of the men were deported to serve out their sentences in their home county of India.

Law enforcement officials conservatively estimate that the shipments totaled about 2,500 pounds of pure ephedrine and 1,250 pounds of pure methamphetamine with a gross profit between $2 million and $3.8 million for its sale. Payton's business sent more than $7,000,000 to India to purchase ephedrine.

As part of sentencing, the court seized approximately $4.2 million in assets. Among the seized assets was Gonzalez' Cessna airplane, a Tesla electric roadster and about $2.2 million in bank and investment accounts. About 90 percent of assets seized belonged to Gonzalez, according to a Department of Justice report.

This investigation has lead to new investigations around the country.

'The novelty of (Peyton's) business was that it was an extremely high volume of ephedrine. There were other companies in India and the U.S. that we found were doing the same thing as Peyton and Gonzalez,' Deits said.