POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A years long investigation saw Florida officials partner with federal authorities to dismantle a drug-trafficking organization that was shipping hundreds of pounds of drugs in luggage on domestic flights.
In a news release, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced that 85 suspects had been arrested and millions of narcotics seized. Judd said that the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force worked with state, local and federal authorities for two years on an undercover investigation that involved wiretaps.
Investigators began the case in September 2020, when one of the suspects was accused of causing a deadly crash. During the investigation into that crash, police learned that the suspect, Demarcus Jefferson and his family, had helped smuggle methamphetamine in luggage, WFLA reported.
Over the course of the next two years, detectives said they determined that drugs were being taken through airports from Mexico to Florida with a stop at Los Angeles International Airport, WTSP reported. In one case, six suitcases flew from Los Angeles to Orlando, filled with drugs.
“They didn’t so much as throw a pair of underwear in the suitcase to act like they were hiding the drugs,” Judd said at a news conference.
In the news release, deputies said a total of 268 pounds of methamphetamine, 180 pounds of cannabis, 31 pounds of cocaine, 49 firearms, 3 grenades and a stolen motorcycle were among the items seized during the investigation. The total street value of all drugs confiscated is more than $12.8 million, deputies said. Included in the total were 6.8 ounces of fentanyl.
“Two milligrams of fentanyl can be a deadly overdose,” Judd told the Lakeland Ledger. “It means that 6.8 ounces of fentanyl could have killed up to 96,000 people.”
In one instance, 94 pounds of methamphetamine and 48 pounds of cannabis were taken on a single flight into Florida, Judd told WFLA.
“There needs to be a deep dive into the baggage handlers, and to see where the hookup was, to allow suitcase after suitcase after suitcase to get through the scanning with no clothes inside, no evidence of clothes inside, just drugs,” Judd told WFLA.
The 85 suspects arrested are facing a total of 355 felony charges and 93 misdemeanors, the Lakeland Ledger reported.
In the news release, Judd identified six suspects as “ring leaders” of the trafficking organization, including Dwayne Stackhouse. Deputies said Stackhouse was found with a kilogram of cocaine inside a leather zippered Bible case during a traffic stop outside of Orlando.
Judd noted the arrest of Javarius Samuel, who was arrested after a search warrant of his California home revealed 68 pounds of marijuana, 109 grams of fentanyl, and 14 grams of cocaine. Investigators said Samuel had a forged Georgia driver’s license, which he was using to travel back and forth between Florida and California. Judd said in the news release that investigators also seized two loaded AK-47 pistols from Samuel’s home that had been in plain view in a home with six children.
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