A Palo Alto police investigation into stolen iPads has led to one of the largest methamphetamine busts in the country’s history, federal investigators said Saturday.
Police and federal agents seized 750 pounds of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of $34 million, from a San Jose apartment Thursday after Palo Alto investigators spotted the drugs while following up on stolen iPads, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The bust “is one of the largest we are aware of,” DEA Special Agent Casey Rettig said.
Investigators found “boxes and boxes and boxes containing bags and bags and bags of methamphetamine” inside the apartment, Rettig said.
The 750 pounds, or 340 kilograms, of methamphetamine confiscated in San Jose is equal to about 16 percent of all methamphetamine seized across the country last year, according to figures on the U.S. Department of Justice website.
Three people were arrested on state drug violations after the raid on an apartment in the 4400 block of Woods Drive, authorities said. They have not released their identities. Rettig described the investigation as “very fluid” and said “there is definitely the potential for more arrests.”
The home is part of the Woods, a subdivision in south San Jose that its website highlights as a “park-like setting of mature trees, formal landscaped gardens, greenbelts and tranquil ponds maintained to award-winning standards.”
Palo Alto detectives pursuing the electronics theft conducted a preliminary search of the apartment and saw “a large quantity of methamphetamine,” according to the DEA. They then called in help from San Jose police and the Santa Clara County district attorney, who called the DEA.
Investigators believe the home was being used both as a residence and as a laboratory where powdered methamphetamine was converted into a crystal form, also referred to as “ice.” Such methamphetamine has an appearance often described as that of broken glass or shattered ice and is ingested by smoking, federal officials said.
Rettig said it was too early in the investigation to link the lab to known drug cartels or trafficking networks, but she indicated that the trend in large methamphetamine busts in Central and Northern California involves ice conversion labs for drugs primarily smuggled in from Mexico.
Last month, the Mexican army seized 15 tons of pure methamphetamine with an estimated U.S. street value of $4 billion. The sheer size of the haul from that raid in western Mexico “could potentially put a huge dent in the supply chain in the U.S,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said at the time.
Investigators in the San Jose raid also found stolen items that had initially led Palo Alto police there, Rettig said, including iPads.
Chronicle news services and San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker contributed to this report.
John Coté is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.