JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Kilos of cocaine, pounds of marijuana, weapons and a tangled web of drug suppliers and distributors are off the streets after a drug-trafficking sting dubbed Operation Eastbound and Down, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced Thursday.
After nine months of in-depth undercover work, two major drug-trafficking organizations were dismantled in the operation, which focused on a Houston-to-Jacksonville cocaine pipeline.
"These two organizations were responsible for bringing potentially 100 kilos or more of cocaine into this city a year," Sheriff Mike Williams said. "That's a lot of money. That's a lot of cocaine. That's a lot of violence on the street generated by that, so this is a significant case."
The sting netted a dozen arrests, 32.5 kilos of cocaine, 16.5 pounds of marijuana, $478,599 in cash, two AK-47s, three handguns, two semi-trucks and three vehicles. The street value of the seized cocaine is over $1.5 million.
"Listen this was going on all over Jacksonville. Obviously you have the intensity of drug sales in the Northwest part of the city, maybe a little more than certain places, but I can tell you that people come from all over the city to the Northwest part of the city to buy that cocaine," Williams said.
JSO worked with the FBI, the State Attorney's Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol and sheriff's offices in Texas and Georgia to break up the two drug-trafficking organizations.
JSO said one of the organizations was led by Anthony Perkins, of Houston, and his Jacksonville co-conspirators were Antoine Pearson Sr. (pictured), Antoine Pearson Jr. and Gregory Pearson. Pearson Sr. is Pearson Jr.'s father and Gregory Pearson's brother.
All four men are now in custody, along with Betty Pearson, an officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office who is charged with helping Pearson Jr. escape capture.
According to police documents, Pearson Sr. was the Jacksonville leader of the organization, Gregory Pearson transported the drugs from Texas to Florida, and Pearson Jr. cut up the cocaine into smaller packages, distributed the drugs and collected payments.
Police said that on Aug. 21, Gregory Pearson traveled from Jacksonville to Houston in his semi-truck to meet with Perkins to purchase an undetermined quantity of powdered cocaine at the direction of Pearson Sr. Police surveillance of that meeting led to the truck, which was pulled over by Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies in Houston. Investigators said they found 11 kilos in the rear of the semi-truck's cab, Gregory Pearson was arrested and the tractor-trailer was seized.
Perkins' home was searched, and investigators found $305,000 and arrested him.
Later that night, Pearson Jr. was arrested and charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine. His father eventually turned himself in and was arrested, police said.
Surveillance in late July had already led to the seizure of $32,000 in drug money from that organization, police said.
The other organization, which was dismantled in July, was led by Patrick Johnson, of Miami, police said. He and four Jacksonville co-conspirators, including one truck driver, are in custody. More than 21 kilos of cocaine, 16 pounds of high-grade marijuana, $140,000 in cash and several guns were seized from that organization, police said.
"We are committed to making Jacksonville the hardest city in America to deal drugs in, and I think this is part of that. I think this shows that," Williams said. "It's a big issue for our city, and it fuels the biggest issue for our city, which is the violent crime issue."
Several lower-level members of the drug trafficking rings have not been captured yet, but Williams said he expects they will be caught soon.