Drug team rescues small-town community

Marion County strike team kicks out dealers, buyers

CHATMIRE, Fla. – Chatmire, a decades-old close-knit community off US 41 outside of Dunnellon, doesn't even have its own zip code since the entire neighborhood is less than a square mile across.

What it does have is a major drug problem.

"Used to be kinda rough, up and down the road," said Jeff Wilson, whose family owns and operates the oldest - and only - store in Chatmire. "Standing out buying drugs. We got kids running around and they don't need to see some of the activity that goes on around here."

Wilson pointed to the empty dirt parking lot across the street from his family's store. He said the lot was essentially a drug-dealing drive through. 

"For lack of a better term, it's an office, you have chairs and tables for drug dealers," said Ocala Police Department Captain Corey Taylor. "This is where they set up shop."

Taylor is the director of a specially-trained drug enforcement strike team known as UDEST.

"UDEST stands for the Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team," said Taylor. "This unit is made up of members from the Marion Co. Sheriff's Office, the Ocala Police Department, and several of our federal partners. Our number one objective is to identify and eradicate drug and vice crimes."

UDEST was called in when Chatmire's residents complained to Dunnellon police.

UDEST undercover officers spent months surveilling the drug dealers and buyers. Agents obtained arrest warrants for seven suspected dealers and they made the criminals feel unwelcome.

"In the last two weeks, big difference since the captain came here, you don't see all the activity people flying up and down the road," Wilson said.

Now, instead of drug deals across the street from his family's store, he sees patrol cars.

"Because I promise you, this lot is empty now, but people will try to come back and replace those dealers that were taken away," Taylor said.

Taylor said UDEST is in Chatmire to stay.

"Part of that is trust," Taylor said. "You establish trust by getting to know one another, you get to know one another by communicating. And we establish that trust by showing them we aren't coming in just to take people to jail, but once we do that there's a commitment, a promise from us, that we are going to be here if you need us."

Wilson said UDEST has given him back his community.

"They got results," Wilson said. "Amazing results."

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