JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A long-term multi-agency dragnet led to the arrests of 11 suspected drug traffickers and the seizure of a stockpile of drugs, including $1 million worth of cocaine and heroin, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams announced Friday.
In total, Williams said, investigators seized over 8 kilograms of cocaine, 2 kilograms of fentanyl-laced heroin, 4 pounds of marijuana, five vehicles and five guns as part of Operation Cash Flow, a joint investigation that began midway through 2016.
Easily the biggest milestone was the seizure of heroin, which Williams called the driving force behind many of the opioid-overdose deaths plaguing Jacksonville.
"Just to give you some perspective, this seizure took about 20,000 individual doses of lethal heroin off the streets," he said.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said the seizure was nothing like the typical drug bust.
“This is a major drug bust for the city of Jacksonville,” he said.
Major because it led to 11 arrests and likely saved many lives, Smith said.
“Fentanyl itself is 50 times more potent than heroin, so when it’s laced with heroin, sometimes the antidote to these drugs is not effective,” Smith said. “Over the past three years, deaths due to these type of opioid overdoses has gone up more than 500 percent. One DEA agent made the comment that if anything can be compared to a weapon of mass destruction, it’s fentanyl. So to get this off the street, I’m sure, saved countless lives.”
Under arrest are O'Neil Bowyer, Bobby Brown, Gregory Brown, George Cooper, Nathan Hudson, Gregory Kleckley, Johndre Richo, Robert Taylor, Christopher Williams, James Williams II, and Kytroi Witherspoon. Each faces a felony charge of trafficking in either cocaine or heroin.
The sheriff said investigators continue to search for Bernard Brown, Emarrie Jackson and Wayne Norman, all of whom are wanted on outstanding warrants linked to similar charges.
"The narcotics trafficking ties them all together," said Williams. "So you've got multiple organizations...that have worked together. And we were able to intercept them at the points where they were working together and were able to make cases on either side of that transaction."
The joint investigation brought together the Sheriff's Office, its counterpart in St. Johns County, the Florida Highway Patrol, the FBI and DEA, among other partner agencies. It began, Williams noted, with an initial tip eight months ago.
Last May, the Sheriff's Office's major case narcotics squad started looking into a drug supplier handling large volumes of cocaine in the College Gardens neighborhood off Kings Road. Williams said that led detectives to other traffickers dealing with large supplies of heroin.
"This case, again, serves as a blueprint for the complex nature of drug trafficking, not only here in our city, but really across the nation. And it evolved, again, to focus on cocaine and heroin traffickers working in partnership," he said.
Then, in July, Williams said, detectives working in tandem with U.S. Postal Inspection intercepted a package containing 521 grams of heroin intended for George Cooper. Cooper and Robert Taylor were arrested as a result of that effort.
A September tip about a heroin dealer heading to Orlando with a planned stop in Jacksonville ended with a traffic stop on I-95 in St. Johns County. Investigators seized 307 grams of heroin and $23,000 cash. They arrested Hudson and, later, Bobby Brown and Kytroi Witherspoon.
Around the same time, the sprawling case led to the arrest of James Williams of Miami during a traffic stop in Nassau County. The sheriff said Williams plotted with Bernard Brown and Wayne Norman to haul 97 grams of heroin from Atlanta to Jacksonville.
The following month, a tip about cocaine from South Florida destined for Jacksonville led state troopers to stop a car carrying O'Neil Bowyer. Investigators seized 7 kilograms of cocaine and $21,000 cash. Bowyer and, later, Christopher Williams and Gregory Kleckly, were arrested.
Gregory Brown was arrested after detectives raided his home and seized 400-plus grams of cocaine, four guns and $63,000, Williams said.
Neighbors who recently moved into the area recalled seeing law enforcement at the house.
“It was a lot of commotion and a lot of cars going down there. I walked out and they had him in handcuffs and put him in the car,” April Mattedi said.
Her husband said it was an odd welcome to the neighborhood.
He added that the raid of a storage unit linked to Johndre Richo, 39, led to the confiscation of 1 kilogram of heroin and .5 kilograms of cocaine.
Richo was arrested at his mother’s apartment, where police seized multiple guns and ammunition.
The five firearms seized during the operation included a semi-automatic rifle and a gold-plated Desert Eagle handgun.
“They’re spending money on things like that and, obviously, that’s a tool they plan to use at some point,” Williams said. “More than the gold coloring, it’s a firearm that’s a tool of the trade when you talk about drug trafficking.”
He said fighting those traffickers is something his agency and its partners will continue to do.
“These 11 arrests and the seizure of 8.3 kilos of cocaine and roughly 2 kilos of fentanyl-laced heroin are examples of the great work our agency and our partners do, day in and day out, in this ongoing battle against the flow of illegal narcotics into our city," Williams said.
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