MANATEE -- Ten suspected cocaine suppliers and traffickers in the Bradenton and Sarasota area are in police custody, along with more than $500,000 worth of cocaine, after a historic 18-month operation.
The Sarasota Police Department "Operation Sarasota Cartel II" brought in 12 kilos of powder cocaine with a street value of more than $500,000, five automobiles seized under the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act and $115,000 in U.S. currency, officials announced at a Tuesday press conference in Sarasota.
"The amount of drugs, money and cars we seized are of historic value for the Sarasota Police Department," said Lt. Pat Ledwith, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, Sarasota Police Department.
Personnel from the Bradenton Police Department and Manatee County Sheriff's Office played roles in the operation, according to a Sarasota Police Department news release.
"We've arrested 10 people who are major distributors and drug traffickers in our area," said Lt. James Rieser, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, Sarasota Police Department. "This is one of the most significant investigations ever done by the Bureau of Criminal Investigations Narcotics Division within the city of Sarasota."
The operation legally intercepted phone calls and generated eight search warrants. The suspects could serve from
three years to 15 years in prison if convicted.
"I would say this is an eye opener for everyone in the criminal element," said Lt. James Racky of the Bradenton Police Department. "This shows them the police can get them anywhere and take a large amount of their possessions. I also hope the public sees that the police want to take narcotics off the street."
Racky, commander of the BPD Narcotics Division, said one detective in his department played a support role.
"This is all Sarasota's case," Racky said. "We didn't do any undercover."
Racky said most suspects worked the streets in Sarasota.
"I recognize a couple of names," Racky said. "I don't recognize them as day-in and day-out dealers in the Bradenton city limits. I would believe they are more from the Sarasota area."
Manatee County Sheriff's Office officials didn't immediately return a phone call on their role in the operation.
Racky said he's been on long operations before but never a year and a half. The length of time gave the case a chance to really blossom, Racky said.
"You can do an operation in a day, but you may not get who you really want," Racky said. "This gives the undercover officers the chance to really work their dealers and gain their confidence so they can buy more and more narcotics and really develop the case."
In August 2012, the Sarasota Police Department began the operation with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida State Attorney's Office for the 12th Judicial District and personnel from the BPD and Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
In January, the investigation culminated with a series of search warrants executed by the Sarasota Police Department with the help of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to the release.
Those arrested include:
Irvin Donte Brown, 26, selling cocaine, trafficking in cocaine;
Roderick Shannon, conspiracy to traffic cocaine over 400 grams;
Al Muta Hawks, conspiracy to traffic cocaine over 400 grams;
Alex Hernando Gomez, 46, conspiracy to traffic cocaine over 400 grams;
Kewarren Lamar Jones, 43, traffic in cocaine, two counts, selling crack cocaine;;
Reginald Eugene Brown, 36, selling cocaine within 1,000 feet of public housing
Shane Kendall Phillips Austin, 28, conspiracy to traffic cocaine;
Reginald Maurice Williams, 38, conspiracy to traffic cocaine;
Demond Williams, 40, selling crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a public park; and
Guss Jackson, 43, selling crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a public park.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.