POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A multi-agency investigation uncovered an international smuggling operation out of Winter Haven that brought drugs into Central Florida, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced 85 people were arrested as a result of a wiretap drug bust investigation Friday morning.
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Judd said the investigation began in September 2020 when the sheriff’s office received information a family in Winter Haven, identified as the Jefferson family, was smuggling “large amounts of drugs into Florida from Mexico through California and then to the streets of Central Florida.”
The sheriff said a wiretap investigation began in February 2022.
“We bought and made predicate cases for the wiretap throughout the two ensuing years, but we couldn’t get to the top and link the organization together. This was a very different kind of operation. If you look at our org chart there, you’ll notice that there’s kind of three distinct groups of people,” he said.
Judd said 85 people were arrested as a result of the investigation and authorities seized 268 pounds of methamphetamine and 6.8 ounces of fentanyl.
“Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, just 6.8 ounces. But according to our DEA partners, 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be a deadly overdose. OK, great. So what does all that mean? It means that 6.8 ounces of fentanyl could have killed up to 96,000 people,” Judd said.
There were also 49 firearms seized and “all kinds of other assorted drugs and pills” worth $12.8 million, the sheriff said.
The sheriff said the drugs were smuggled in suitcases through domestic flights from LAX.
“On one occasion on one airline, six suitcases with this drug was smuggled into Orlando. They didn’t so much as throw a pair of underwear in the suitcase to act like they were hiding the drugs. You think LAX just got a drug smuggling problem at the airport? I believe that they do and they need to address it,” he said.
A Transportation Security Administration spokesperson said the agency’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.
The spokesperson added that TSA security officers do not search for illegal drugs, but if found during the screening process, the TSA will refer the matter to law enforcement partners.
Several law enforcement agencies — including the Orlando Police Department, Osceola County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Border Patrol — worked together to focus on taking down the drug-trafficking organization.
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