Dozens arrested in Marion County sting combating drug-related deaths

Deputies: 'Operation Live Saver' launched after spike in overdoses

By Brianna Volz - Web producer
Photo courtesy of MCSO

OCALA, Fla. - A 10-month operation carried out by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in an effort to combat drug-related deaths ended this week with several arrests, deputies said.

MCSO’s Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team began “Operation Life Saver” in February, after the authorities noticed an increase in drug overdoses and other drug-related deaths.

Deputies said their goal was to “identify, arrest, and prosecute every individual and organized network responsible for heroin-related drug crimes.”

Within the first nine months of the operation, UDEST agents arrested 65 people

Photo courtesy of MCSO
accused of importing, manufacturing and distributing heroin or other illicit drugs, the Sheriff’s Office said. Five of the suspects belonged to various drug trafficking organizations that authorities were able to identify and dismantle, deputies said.

Agents intensified their efforts toward the end of the operation by securing arrest warrants for 17 additional people accused of trafficking heroin and search warrants for five homes in the Ocala-Marion County area that had been identified as heroin distribution points, the Sheriff’s Office said.

After securing the warrants and executing them, agents arrested 25 people on drug charges from Dec. 12 through Dec. 15, including eight who were accused of selling heroin, deputies said.

The Sheriff’s Office said agents also seized the following drugs while serving the warrants:

  • 1.89 kg - Marijuana
  • 26 g - Heroin
  • 6 g - Black Tar Heroin
  • 131 g - Crack Cocaine
  • 2.11 lbs - Powder Cocaine
  • 80 g - ICE (Crystal Methamphetamine)
  • 249 g - Molly (MDMA)
  • 22 g - Synthetic Marijuana
  • Various prescription pills/narcotics

Photo courtesy of MCSO
Agents also seized 29 weapons in three days, some of which had been reported stolen and were in the possession of convicted felons and drug traffickers, deputies said.

The Sheriff’s Office posted a video on Facebook Saturday that detailed the success of the operation, but deputies said agents were still searching for at least seven people accused of selling or trafficking heroin, including the following:

  • Jequan Roberts, 26
  • Vi’quano I’yon Fowler, 18
  • Johnny Smith, 22
  • Allison Jessica Carter, 28
  • Vincent Williams, 28
  • Kendall Williams, 46
  • Brian Hopkins, 44

The operation was carried out through a partnership between the Sheriff’s Office, the Ocala Police Department and various federal agencies, deputies said.

Law enforcement leaders said they were pleased with the efforts in combating the opioid crisis the area has seen throughout the year.

“I am so proud of the dedication of our officers that worked so hard to bring these people who are killing our citizens to justice,” Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham said. “In the City of Ocala, there have been 15 overdose deaths this year. The Ocala Police department is committed to ensuring our community is safe and this investigation is only the beginning of our efforts to rid our community of this opioid crisis.”

In addition to the overdose deaths Graham mentioned, Sheriff Billy Woods expanded on the increase of heroin use in the county.

“During recent years, we have seen an unprecedented increase in heroin use in our community, and the agents of UDEST have worked tirelessly to combat it,” said Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods. “In 2017 alone, 12 people have died from the poison sold by these dealers and traffickers. I am certain that this operation has saved many lives, and I am thankful to our UDEST agents for all of their hard work and dedication in making Marion County a safer place.”

In the video posted on Facebook, a resident of the area could be heard telling authorities that he’s seen children find needles lying around outside homes.

Photo courtesy of MCSO

“I had a 14-year-old bring me a needle from off the side of the road,” the man said.

The man told deputies that his neighbors from down the street said their children had been finding needles in people’s yards.

Nearly 73 drug-related deaths were reported in the Ocala-Marion County area this year, according to the video.

Deputies urged anyone who needs help with a heroin addiction to call the Centers at 352-291-5555 or The Vines Hospital at 866-671-3130.

The Sheriff’s Office also asked anyone with information about these crimes to submit an anonymous tip by calling Crime Stoppers at 352-368-STOP.

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