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Prescription drug ring busted at state prison

Ex-corrections officer, prison major arrested; numerous DOC employees being investigated

BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. – A former corrections officer at Florida State Prison has been charged with felony drug trafficking after an undercover operation revealed he was selling prescription drugs out of the prison and his home.

A Florida State Prison major was also arrested in connection with the oxycodone drug ring. Investigators said Maj. Charles Gregory Combs smuggled drugs into the state prison located at the Bradford-Union county line.

Combs, known as Chicken Hawk, was arrested about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday and was immediately fired.

At least 80 people have been identified as buying oxycodone from and/or selling it to Dylan Hilliard, who was the focus of a four-month investigation dubbed Operation Checkered Flag.

"This investigation is a long way from being over. That number could continue to grow as we keep actively seeking out and following all leads," Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said. "It's like a spider web, it keeps on growing."

The operation began after the Bradford County Sheriff's Office received information that Hilliard, who also worked at Florida State Prison, was supplying Bradford County with large amounts of prescription pain medication.

Numerous Florida Department of Corrections employees have been suspended and are still being investigated to determine their involvement with the case.

"When you're hard on drugs, your crime's low. That's one of the reasons Bradford County is one of the safest counties in the state. That's why drug dealers here, they're looking over their shoulder," Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said. "Keep looking over your shoulder, because the sheriff's office is coming."

During the investigation, detectives with the BCSO Drug Task Force learned that Hilliard would purchase large amounts of oxycodone from people with legitimate prescriptions and then sell the pills to generate profits that he used to support his auto-racing hobby.

During Operation Checkered Flag, Hilliard was under surveillance by detectives, who confirmed that Hilliard was selling illegal prescription medication from his home as well as the prison. An undercover agent with the DOC said Hilliard sold the agent 43 pills for $940.

The BCSO Drug Task Force contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about the investigation. FDLE sent several agents to assist with an undercover buy/bust operation. Hilliard was arrested on June 11 after he purchased a "trafficking" amount of oxycodone -- hundreds of dollars worth of the pills. The Department of Corrections was notified of the arrest and ongoing investigation. Hilliard resigned after his arrest.

DOC immediately notified the Office of Inspector General, which began a concurrent investigation with the BCSO Drug Task Force.

"The cooperation we received from Secretary Julie Jones, Warden John Palmer, FDLE and the Office of the Inspector General has been phenomenal," Smith said. "Their desire to ferret out those people who do not maintain the highest of professional standards is in lockstep with the expectations here at the Bradford County Sheriff's Office."

Combs was charged with two counts of selling prescription drugs, three counts of purchasing opiates and one count of smuggling drugs into a detention facility. All six charges are felonies. Combs was booked into the Bradford County Jail with a $450,000 bond.  He is being held at an undisclosed location for security measures.

Smith said along with the dealers, the county is cracking down on the doctors who supply the pills.

"There are very few doctors that are doing it, actually, but the ones that are doing it, they better run and find them a place to hide," Smith said. "We're going to seek them out and bring them to justice."

There's no word on just how long those other DOC employees will be suspended or how long the investigation will take.

Investigators said so far there's no indication the pills were sold or given to any inmates at the prison.