By Tamas Mondovics

Sheriff David Gee briefed the media last month at the Criminal Investigation Division, located at 2224 N. Falkenburg Rd. on multiple investigations in illegal narcotics and numerous arrests that have occurred.

The first case, called “Operation Fall Harvest”, was prompted by several anonymous tips on the part of citizens through the Crime Stoppers program.  

Detectives spent countless hours of research and surveillance, which they said revealed a large organization that spanned from Hillsborough County to Pasco County and as far north as Marion County.

Detectives employed a variety of techniques and manpower.  

“Our detectives made the investigations a priority, trying to reduce violence in our neighborhood recognizing the danger of this type of criminal organization poses to the community.” Gee said. Working closely with the State Attorney’s Office, the concluded with 13 search warrants, 10 of which were executed in Hillsborough County.  

The Pasco and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office also executed search warrants at locations related to the organization, which yielded six grow houses that contained a total of 481 marijuana plants.  

The seized plants, along with additional 24.5 lbs. of processed marijuana found, totaled $1.4 million in street value, while $97,011 in drug proceeds were also seized along with 10 firearms. Additionally, 13 subjects were arrested on a variety of serious charges including racketeering and drug trafficking.

HCSO also conducted a synthetic marijuana investigation commonly known as “spice.”

Incidents involving such drugs include overdoses and intoxicated suspects who sometimes attack or violently resist law enforcement.

Sheriff’s Office developed a strategy aimed at all levels of spice distribution, to include street-level dealers, mid level distributors and businesses as well as upper level spice manufacturers. Detectives investigated a wide range of suspects, including homeless persons and certified gang members, as well as business owners with no prior involvement in the criminal justice system.

Agents of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco and Hillsborough County Code Enforcement, also assisted with citing and revoking the license of businesses actively selling spice.

Near the University of South Florida, detectives seized 150 pounds (approximately 7,200 packages) of spice packaged for sale. Another 222 pounds of Damiana leaves used to manufacture spice with a street value of $352,000, was also seized, along with $10,500 in U.S. currency.  

Search warrants and consent searches were served at five area businesses actively selling spice within Hillsborough County, Mary’s Beverage Castle (voluntarily closed subsequent to the search warrant) 9401 US Hwy. 301 S Gibsonton and Apollo Beach Food Mart (search warrant), 6020 US 41 S. in Apollo Beach.

For more information, please visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.