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SPPD discovers, busts violent nationwide drug ring

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway points to a map showing a drug ring's shipment routes. All photos: SPPD.

An investigation into local shootings uncovered a violent drug ring that brought semi trucks full of narcotics worth millions of dollars into the area every week.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway relayed how several agencies joined forces to disrupt the crime syndicate. The investigation, initiated by the SPPPD, included the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Tampa division; the local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE); the Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office; the Pinellas and Pasco State Attorney’s Office; and the Clearwater and Tampa Police Departments.

In January, St. Petersburg police began investigating a rash of gun violence in the city and established a connection between the shootings and a nationwide drug ring. That led to “Operation Coquina Key” and the recent completion of over 130 arrest warrants and 130 subpoenas.

“They were making somewhere between a million to three million dollars per week,” said Holloway. “People are going to fight over that for territory. Innocent people are going to get killed over this.”

Officers seized $360,000 in cash while executing six search warrants over the last two weeks.

Holloway explained that his department discussed its findings with the aforementioned agencies in April. Together, they created an action plan at a subsequent meeting in June. Following the recommendation of one official, he said the organizations began acting like a business conglomerate and knocked down barriers that impeded cooperation.

Holloway said they soon realized the violent crimes occurring throughout the region were connected. He noted a break in the investigation came when officials arrested “two Asian gentlemen” transporting drugs from California to Tampa Bay.

“And when I tell you a shipment, I mean a semi-truck trailer came in once a week with narcotics,” added Holloway. “Sometimes, the semi-truck would make two loads a week.”

He said the wholesale value of each shipment was about $1.8 million, with a street value of around $3 million.

Local dealers, explained Holloway, would meet the semis and load their cars with hundreds of pounds of marijuana. Officers also found liquid codeine, crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine, a heroin and fentanyl mixture, ecstasy and THC wax during recently executed search warrants.

Police also seized 15 guns – one an AR-15 rifle they linked to two shootings. Holloway said one occurred in Hillsborough, but SPPD recovered the stolen car used in that crime in St. Pete, riddled with bullet holes. Inside was a stolen Pasco County license plate.

Officers also connected that gun to a shooting outside at a St. Petersburg residence, added Holloway. He said they recovered 20 shell casings from outside the home.

Police seized 15 guns, three reported stolen and one linked to two shootings.

The SPPD, said Holloway, conducted several National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) checks on the spent casings. Over a dozen NIBIN reports linked the drug ring to shootings throughout Pinellas.

Holloway relayed that officers conducted six search warrants over the last two weeks and arrested 26 suspects. Officials with participating agencies said more would follow.

“If you’re selling drugs, if you’re committing violent crimes in the Tampa Bay area, we are coming,” said Holloway. “With everything we have. The next person that thinks they’re going to replace this group – we’ll take you down also.”

He explained that the narcotics enterprise creates violent crimes such as home invasions, which fellow drug dealers are often reticent to report. Minors become involved to impress their older peers, said Holloway, who stressed that there are other opportunities without the risk of getting shot at or killed.

Those arrested in St. Pete are “certified” gang members, said Holloway, and the remaining suspects know they are wanted. He suggested they turn themselves into the SPPD rather than delaying the inevitable.

Shipments came from California to Hillsborough and Pasco Counties and St. Petersburg, explained Holloway. He said the syndicate members would then transport the drugs from St. Pete to Sarasota and Manatee Counties and the Cities of Clearwater and Lake Wales.

Local dealers would schedule appointments to pick up their share of the shipments from California.

Holloway noted local officers did not target “people on the street corner” during the operation, but the men and women that “tried to destroy our community.”

During the last two weeks, SPPD seized about 1,800 pounds of marijuana; 15 guns (three stolen); $360,000 in cash; seven pounds of liquid promethazine (codeine); 1,054 grams of THC wax; eight vehicles (two stolen); and hundreds of grams of various narcotics.

“As the poster shows, these guys do not know jurisdictional boundaries,” said Mark Brutnell with FDLE Tampa Division. “The good thing is, neither do we.”

 

 

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Laura

    October 25, 2022at3:04 pm

    This is a huge accomplishment! Thank you to all involved in making our community safer!

  2. Avatar

    monah

    October 25, 2022at6:04 pm

    Legalize it and put the criminals out of business. That being said, this was a very impressive operation.

  3. Avatar

    Lopez Lauren

    October 26, 2022at5:36 am

    Why hasn’t this been in the local paper?

  4. Avatar

    Scott Russell

    October 26, 2022at3:17 pm

    Great job Chief Holloway and all law enforcement that participated in this bust! We appreciate all you do to keep our communities safe.

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