10 state corrections officers among 51 charged with drug sales

Bradford County sheriff says ring smuggled drugs, cellphones into prisons

By Ethan Calloway - Anchor/reporter, Chris Parenteau - Reporter

A months-long investigation ended Tuesday with 51 arrests in Bradford County. Ten state corrections employees were among those charged in connection to smuggling prescription pills and cellphones into state prisons.

The Sheriff's Office said this was an elaborate ring smuggling drugs and cell phones into state prisons.

The Sheriff's Office called the case "Operation Checkered Flag." It all started with a tip in January and the sheriff said the sting turned out to be even bigger than originally thought.

The ring spanned several counties, including Bradford, Alachua, Duval and Polk. Sheriff Gordon Smith told the media that this sting ended up bigger than originally thought.

Smith said he knew some of the people who were arrested personally.

"The faces that you see are the faces that I live with every day," Smith said. "When you see these people, it's shocking when they come back and say 'Sheriff, you're not going to believe who is involved.'"

One of those arrested was Department of Corrections employee Dylan Hilliard. Investigators said Hilliard was getting the drugs and distributing them to nine coworkers and supervisors.

Thomas Reddish, the grandson of a former sheriff, was also arrested.

Smith said this is just the beginning of a bigger crackdown on this type of activity.

"They've got to look over their shoulder," Smith said. "The next time that doctor is writing the script, he'd better look over his shoulder.

The next time that person wants to make the illegal drug buy, look over your shoulder, because there might be a fellow in green or blue that's going to take your freedom away."

Charges include trafficking oxycodone, sale/purchase/delivery of both oxycodone and hydrocodone, conspiracy to sell/purchase/deliver oxycodone and more.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith

The sheriff made it clear that this is about more than making arrests.

"This is about saving lives and saving those in our community," Smith said. "Yes, as we incarcerate those people, our crime rate and our thefts go down because drugs and crime go hand-in-hand and we will not stop. We will finish this race. As the sheriff of Bradford County, I assure you of that."

The sheriff also had plenty to say about the local doctors, who were identified as prescribing the prescription drugs used in the ring. None of them were arrested today.

Florida Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said all 10 DOC employees arrested were terminated.

"Today's actions send a clear message to both our officers and the people of Florida that any FDC employee engaging in criminal conduct will be identified and punished to the fullest extent of both Florida law and department policy," Jones said in a statement.

Smith said the arrests of corrections officers is embarrassing for all of law enforcement, but that there have to be consequences for actions.

"People think (drug use) just affects the user. It doesn't just affect the user, it effects the family it effects their friends, other coworkers," Smith said.

The sheriff was especially outspoken about the doctors identified in the operation, but none were arrested in Tuesday's raids.

"They care more about their checkbook than their patients," Smith said of the physicians accused of supplying drugs to those the ring delivering contraband to inmates. "The next time that doctors is writing that script, he better look over his shoulder."