Florida officials made several arrests last week that were the result of an 18-month investigation into what authorities say is a large network dedicated to spreading the deadly drug.
Authorities say the widespread network is based in Walton county, and it first came to their attention last spring. Walton County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s Panama City Resident Office Task Force began investigating the area couple last May, as they believed they operated a methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl distribution operation in Freeport.
Investigators say the couple obtained significant quantities of drugs from an Atlanta supplier and distributed them in the Walton county area and northwest Florida. Arrests began shortly thereafter, with Federal indictments immediately following. Thus far 15 people have been arrested in connection with the alleged fentanyl trafficking operation. Among the charges facing these defendants are the following:
- conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute
- using two-way communications to commit a felony
- conspiracy to purchase methamphetamine
- conspiracy to purchase heroin
- conspiracy to purchase oxycodone
- unlawful use of a two-way communication device
- possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
Authorities say 6 people continue to be wanted on similar state and federal charges.
Demand has risen for the dangerous drug, as recent studies have shown that use has spiked due to the pandemic this year. According to a study, Florida is among the 38 states that experienced a rise in overdose deaths from opioids, including fentanyl.
Along with a rise in usage has come a rise in arrests, especially in Florida. Earlier this month a Cape Coral man was arrested for the third time on federal drug charges, including those relating to fentanyl possession. The 31-year-old was released from prison in February this year, and he told authorities that he would be living in an apartment in Cape Coral. However, police say they discovered him living in a different apartment across town, where he allegedly dealt drugs.
Law enforcement arrested the man last month, allegedly finding 50 grams of fentanyl, cutting and measuring equipment, and thousands of dollars in cash on his person. As this is his third Federal drug charge, the defendant will be facing a mandatory minimum of a decade in prison, with a life sentence also possible upon conviction.
Florida’s first-degree murder statute allows for conviction if a defendant is shown to have been responsible for unlawfully distributing fentanyl if it is the proximate cause of the death of another. A 27-year-old man in Seminole county has been charged thusly, as prosecutors say he bought fentanyl-laced heroin that an acquaintance used, subsequently fatally overdosing on it.
Per prosecutors, the 19-year-old victim used the fentanyl the defendant bought, and the defendant failed to act to help her once she began to overdose. He allegedly stood by as the victim perished, ultimately taking her corpse to a hospital several hours later.
The defendant is also facing charges of possession of fentanyl and resisting an officer without violence. He is currently being represented by a public defender.