SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5/ KCBS / BCN) — San Francisco police patrolling the city’s upscale Laurel Heights neighborhood made a surprising find: a suspected meth lab and identity theft operation, police said Thursday.

State narcotics investigators were called in as police seized numerous precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drug from a duplex on Manzanita Avenue behind the Laurel Village Shopping Center on Wednesday.

KCBS’ Bob Melrose Reports:

“This was a fairly sophisticated producer of drugs in terms of a bright person,” said Police Captain Rich Corriera. He explained the leader of the alleged operation had an “understanding of chemicals, and mixing them and cooking them.”

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

Corriea spoke to reporters Thursday 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 Thursday 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.”

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.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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