MOULTRIE -- Law enforcement officials may have solved the mystery of where stolen farm chemicals were going with the Thursday morning arrests of two brothers accused of producing methamphetamine.

Officers seized a cornucopia of noxious chemicals, including anhydrous ammonia like that which has been disappearing from farms and chemical suppliers, used in making methamphetamine, the Colquitt County Sheriff's Department said. A small amount of suspected methamphetamine also was seized.

While one of the men had been under surveillance and was suspected of making the drug, it was a warrant from another county that resulted in the busts, Sheriff Al Whittington said.

Officers looking for Michael Strickland at his brother's 2272 Smithwick Bridge Road residence made the first arrest, taking John Richard Strickland, 39, into custody at 3 a.m. Michael Strickland was wanted on an arrest warrant from Thomas County for assault and he was known to hang out at his brother's residence, Whittington said.

Colquitt County Drug Enforcement Team had been investigating John Strickland for about three months, Whittington said, and Thomas County Sheriff's Department also was investigating him.

Both Michael Strickland, 34, 2609 Old Berlin Road, and Robert Strickland, 39, were charged with manufacturing methamphetamine. Both men are suspected suppliers of the drug, Whittington said.

"They (officers) did a consent search," Whittington said of Robert Strickland's residence. "They found all those chemicals and they arrested Ricky. I guess this pretty much wrapped up a three- or four-month investigation."

The chemicals seized, which the sheriff's department said are used in making methamphetamine, included anhydrous ammonia, peeled batteries, Coleman fuel and denatured alcohol. About four grams of suspected methamphetamine were found by officers who searched both residences.

"Then we went to the next location on Old Berlin Road to serve the arrest warrant," Whittington said. "In the process of serving a warrant on Michael, we again located these products that are consistent with the products needed to operate a meth lab."

The suspected laboratory at Robert Strickland's was in a brick storage building, while his brother's was next to the mobile home in which two young girls lived.

The children were initially taken to relatives and then were taken into custody by the Department of Family and Children Services.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Columbus and the Environmental Protection Agency office in Atlanta assisted in the dismantling and disposal of the labs, Whittington said.

Thefts of anhydrous ammonia have been noted in recent months, and Whittington said the number of laboratories located in Colquitt County and surrounding counties is not known.

"I think that would be tough to say," he said. "We've seen a rise in anhydrous ammonia thefts, which is indicative of labs being in operation. We're going to stay on top of these things and follow up on any chemical thefts."

-- By Alan Mauldin

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