AG Moody, Florida officers shut down another fentanyl trafficking ring

(The Center Square) – A multi-agency operation led by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd’s office has crippled another fentanyl trafficking ring, this time in Lakeland, Florida.

It comes on the heels of another successful drug bust Judd announced in April after investigators disrupted a Mexican drug trafficking organization operating in several states. Through that organization, they seized the largest amount of fentanyl in county history – enough to kill one-third of the state’s population, The Center Square reported.

The latest operation, Operation Rooske, took three years, and culminated with the arrests of 64 people. The drug trafficking organization, investigators found, was being run out of two small businesses, a fish-and-bait shop and a motorcycle shop. The drugs were then sold and distributed in Polk and Osceola counties.

Operation Rooske began in January 2021 when detectives initially believed they were investigating a low-level street dealer. They soon realized the alleged drug dealers were “cranking out 500 to 1,000 bags” of 2/10 of a gram of fentanyl, Judd said at a news conference on Friday.

He held up a small dime-sized bag of flour to illustrate how much fentanyl was being sold. As a result of their investigation, they seized enough fentanyl to kill 371,000 Floridians.

“In essence, this fentanyl trafficking organization was the family business,” Judd said. “The motorcycle shop and the bait shop were corrupt businesses that were used as a means for money laundering. Their customers weren’t involved; they had no idea what was going on. In fact, the owners tried to project a wholesome facade while conducting their criminal enterprise behind the scenes until it all came crashing down on them, thanks to the fantastic work by our detectives.”

The sheriff’s office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution were involved in the investigation.

Organized Crime Unit detectives from the PCSO and special agents from FDLE conducted multiple undercover purchases of fentanyl from the bait and tackle and motorcycle parts shops. They were able to build a case and eventually arrest who they characterized as the leader of the organization, a 43-year-old Lakeland resident whose key co-conspirators were his wife and daughter.

On June 20, six search warrants were served in Polk and Osceola counties resulting in investigators seizing more than 742 grams of fentanyl, more than 13 grams of methamphetamine, more than 228 grams of marijuana with a combined street value of more than $475,000. They also seized assets worth more than $600,000.

“While most of the arrests were buyers of illegal drugs from the Rooske organization, detectives used those arrests to lead back to and build a case against the organization,” the sheriff’s office said.

Investigators found that the group generally sold small quantities of drugs attempting to avoid being detected. They also used “countersurveillance techniques,” including having cameras outside of their residences and businesses, using multiple cellphones and changing the location of their drug deals, investigators found.

Moody’s office charged nine defendants with felony counts of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, conspiracy to commit RICO, and fentanyl trafficking among other charges.

“Florida leads the nation in fentanyl seizures, and this case is yet another example of how Sheriff Grady Judd and his deputies are leaders in helping us remove deadly drugs from our streets,” Moody said. “Working with Polk County deputies and FDLE, we were able to seize 742 grams of fentanyl in two counties. That is enough poison to kill 371,000 Floridians, and I have no doubt that this drug-interdiction operation saved lives.”

Her office is prosecuting nine cases, the remaining single-judicial circuit cases will be handled by the local state attorney, her office said.

Judd announced the results of their investigation one week after Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood announced the result of a major drug bust in Volusia and Putnam counties, The Center Square reported.

That was after another multi-agency effort busted a human trafficking ring tied to the border operating in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, The Center Square reported.