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30 charged in 64-count meth indictment in NE Ark.

A 64-count indictment unsealed Wednesday charges 30 people in a wide-ranging methamphetamine investigation in northeast Arkansas.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A 64-count indictment unsealed Wednesday charges 30 people in a wide-ranging methamphetamine investigation in northeast Arkansas.

The U.S. attorney's office said 27 of the defendants were arrested Wednesday and that three were still loose. Defendants who were in custody are to appear in court Thursday at 10 a.m.

The indictment charges 29 of the 30 defendants with conconspiracy to distribute or possess with intent to distribute 500 or more grams of methamphetamine.

The one person not charged in the conspiracy is charged with knowing about it and not telling authorities.

Prosecutors said the actions in question occurred between January and May. The indictment was handed up on Sept. 5 but not unsealed until Wednesday.

It was unclear whether any of the defendants had lawyers.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Duke said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies focused the investigation on meth because of its social cost.

"Methamphetamine is a highly addictive and devastating drug. There is no way people are able to remain 'social' or 'recreational' meth users. It eventually overtakes every aspect of a person's life," Duke said. "Left in the wake are broken families, ruined careers, repossessed homes, and serious health problems."

A conviction on conspiracy to distribute or possess meth with intent to distribute carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with the maximum extending to life behind bars.

The indictment doesn't reveal much about how the alleged ring operated or say how it was cracked.

The indictment names Antonio Ventura-Fuentes in 10 counts, which accuse him of distributing methamphetamine on multiple occasions between January and May. He's named in more counts than any other defendant.

The indictment charges 27 of the defendants with separate counts of using a telephone to further the alleged conspiracy.

Also taking part in the investigation was the Arkansas National Guard, the U.S. Marshals Service, the state police and the Independence County Sheriff's Department.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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