sfpd_arrestcuffs.jpgSan Francisco police patrolling the city’s upscale Laurel Heights neighborhood Wednesday made a surprising find: a suspected meth lab and identity theft operation.

Richmond District police Capt. Richard Corriea said today that officers questioned “some suspicious folks” in a car outside 24 Manzanita Ave. at about 3:45 p.m., and “based on the status of one of the individuals,” searched the home.

Officers found the first-floor apartment had been converted “in large part to a production facility for pretty dangerous and nasty drugs,” Corriea said.

Corriea said “a significant amount” of precursor chemicals to produce methamphetamine and GHB, a so-called “date-rape” drug, had been found. A total of five people were arrested.

Corriea spoke to reporters this morning outside the gray, two-story home, where investigators had taped off an area of the quiet block to make room for a variety of items purportedly used for the drug-making operation.

Large beakers, cold medicine, paint thinner, gas masks and a biochemistry textbook were among the items laid out and numbered on the sidewalk.

Corriea said the fire department had declared the area safe shortly after the lab was discovered.

“With a meth lab there’s always a danger of explosion,” he said.

“The chemicals are both toxic and volatile.”

Police had already spoken with the neighbors on the second floor of the building.

“They were surprised by the activity,” Corriea said.

Curious and bemused neighbors walked past the scene this morning, wondering why their tranquil street had suddenly been taken over by police cars and TV cameras.

“I wouldn’t have ever thought that there would be a meth lab there,” said 30-year-old Steve Salta, who said he has lived up the street since 2003. “It’s really a quiet, sleepy neighborhood.”

Upon reflection, Salta added, “It’s almost kind of like a perfect spot if you’re going to have some kind of shady operation. Because no one would ever expect it.”

Corriea called the lab “a small-to-medium operation” run by “a fairly sophisticated producer of drugs.”

Four San Francisco residents – John Prato, 37, Ryan Elleson, 32, Rosario Hipple, 44, and April Linton, 33 – were arrested, along with a non-city resident, Todd Molley, 47, according to police. They are facing various drug charges, as well as charges of fraud, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.

Police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield said the arrests came not as part of a prior investigation, but were simply “good police work” by officers on patrol.

“They made a neighborhood safer,” he said.


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