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Major International Meth Bust In Santa Rosa

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) -- The bust of an international drug and money laundering operation headquartered in Australia has led to the discovery of more than 560 pounds of crystal methamphetamine in a Sonoma County storage facility, Australian authorities announced Wednesday.

According to the Australian Federal Police, three men were taken into custody in Australia in connection with an investigation also including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

The joint investigation began after the DEA received intelligence in January 2017 relating to a conspiracy to export drugs from California to Australia.

On June 15th, DEA agents conducted a search warrant on a storage facility in Sonoma County and uncovered approximately 255 kilograms (562.18 pounds) of a white crystalline substance which tested positive for methamphetamine.

The substance was seized and investigations continued in Australia to locate the intended destination for the drugs.

On July 19th, police apprehended the last of three people allegedly connected with the importation of the drugs into Australia.

All three men have been charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of controlled drugs, namely methamphetamine. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The men have also been charged with money laundering.

Australia-based DEA agent Eric W. Baldus said the bust showed the strong working relation his agency has with the AFP.

"These arrests, in conjunction with the seizure of a significant amount of crystal methamphetamine in Santa Rosa are representative of the strength and effectiveness of our combined global policing strategies," he said.

According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a 72-year-old Melbourne man -- a suspect in the case -- attempted to arrange the purchase of an airplane in Santa Rosa from PropJet Aviation based at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.

The business, which specializes in modifying smaller private planes, was searched with guns drawn last week by federal drug agents.

Company owner Robert Nichols, who said he and his business have no connection to the alleged drug trafficking scheme, told the newspaper about the strange interactions with a portly Australian man who showed up at his door this spring.

"He said he wanted to fly to Australia," Nichols told the paper. "He just said because he wanted to."

Authorities said the investigation into the cartel's operation and its links to Sonoma County was ongoing.

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