A busted muffler led to methamphetamine arrests Wednesday in Oxford and exposed a new tactic in which meth manufacturers use homeless people to obtain pseudoephedrine, the most difficult ingredient to obtain for the manufacture of the highly addictive drug.

Oxford police pulled over the car Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., police said. The driver, Charles McNeice, 46, formerly of Gray, was driving without a license as well as being out on bail from York County Jail on a felony theft charge. The passenger, Joshua Mershimer, 33, formerly a transient from Portland, had an outstanding warrant for failing to pay fines in Cumberland County, police said.

But what caught the officer’s attention were the materials in the car – pseudoephedrine, ammonium nitrate, sodium chloride and lithium – all used to make methamphetamine. The manufacture of the drug, besides being illegal, is considered very dangerous and leaves behind a toxic waste.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s clandestine laboratory team responded.

McNeice was charged with aggravated trafficking in methamphetamine – aggravated because of a prior felony conviction in Florida – and violating conditions of release. He was ordered held at the Oxford County Jail without bail. Mershimer was charged with conspiracy to commit methamphetamine trafficking and had his bail set at $5,000.

McNeice also is a suspect in two other meth lab investigations earlier this year in Kittery and Pownal, police said, though he has not been charged in connection with those investigations.

The two men are homeless and police said a number of other homeless people in Portland were recruited to buy pseudoephedrine and other items needed to make methamphetamine. State law regulates how much pseudophedrine a person is allowed to buy within a month, and tracks the purchases people make as a way to thwart diversion.

The people recruited to buy the cold medicine were given items to return to stores for cash or gift cards and would then buy the medicine, police said.

Agents on Wednesday also arrested and charged a Houlton woman, Toni Bulley, 48, with trafficking in methamphetamine after searching two apartments in the northern Maine community and finding the drug.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: @Mainehenchman