Deputies: Dealers used Middleburg cellphone store as front for selling drugs

Clay County Sheriff's Office says heroin, meth being sold at store

By Maggie Lorenz - Multi-media journalist, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. - Clay County deputies said they've made 14 arrests and expect to make more after they uncovered a drug ring that was using a cellphone store as a front.

Investigators said buyers would pose as customers at the Boost Mobile store at 2684 Blanding Blvd. but were actually trading cash and property for heroin and methamphetamine.

After getting a tip from a resident that something unusual was going on at the Middleburg retail store and obtaining some preliminary information, deputies raided the business late Wednesday, making arrests and seizing narcotics, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The investigators said employees of the cellphone store were selling the drugs during normal business hours, which allowed the buyers to pretend to be customers of the store. Detectives said the employees not only took cash for the drugs, but would accept jewelry or electronics in trade. They were still checking to see if some of those items were stolen.

"It was pretty shocking, the boldness of this operation," Lt. Domenic Panaiccia said. 

He described the sales at the store almost like what happens on Black Friday, with people lined up before the store opened, anxious for the doors to open and knocking if the store opened even one minute late.

One of the employees arrested told investigators he had never sold a cellphone at the store, only drugs.

At last word, detectives said they were still trying to reach the owner of the store about the drug operation and that there is no indication anyone at the Boost Mobile corporate level knew anything what was going on.

The Boost Mobile store was dark and locked up most of Thursday, but an employee arrived in the afternoon and the open sign came on, but the door remained locked and an employee inside shook her head when News4Jax went to the door.

Neighbors said they were certainly aware of the drug activity.

"I'm not surprised," Carl Post said. "It's getting worse and worse and people are finding out that they think they can come to Clay County and they can hide what they're doing and not be caught. But I got news for them ... we know what to look out for."

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"Since the new sheriff come in, he's really cracked down on drugs and that is one thing I'm so thankful for," Bonnie Johns said.

The Sheriff's Office has a message for those involved with illegal drugs in Clay County.

"I want to make it miserable for the drug users, the drug dealers. I want them gone,"  Panaiccia said. "We'd love for you not to do it anywhere ... but you're going to do it. We're not going to tolerate it here."

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