MANATEE — The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is working to round up 44 alleged drug dealers on 115 charges stemming from Operation Street Sweep.
For the past three months, undercover detectives with the Special Investigation Division have been gathering evidence to obtain arrest warrants. “It’s not a buy-bust,” said Sheriff Brad Steube. “It’s a buy-walk where you buy the drugs and let the money walk.”
Most of the undercover deals are recorded on video, allowing detectives to identify unknown suspects.
Seventeen people were arrested Friday on the warrants. Five, who were already in custody, were served the new charges in jail. Deputies will work to arrest the other 22 suspects with warrants in the coming days.
The main focus of the street sweeps, which have been done about twice a year since 2008, is to make an arrest that will put a repeat offender behind bars for a long period of time.
“Hopefully for a number of them, this arrest will score them out, if convicted, to put them in prison. Then and only then are you able to get them out of the community,” Steube said. “It’s unfortunate some will have the opportunity to bond out. If some have had prior charges, their bonds may be higher and perhaps they won’t bond out.”
Sometimes, Steube said detectives will initiate a buy-bust in order to deter the problem.
“We get anonymous complaints and complaints from citizens about different hot spots in the county where they are open selling,” Steube said. “The way we address that is by this.”
Steube said there are certain areas in the county where you can go anywhere in a two-block radius and purchase drugs of any kind.
Those arrested Friday range from 17-year-old Terrance Rodell Davis Jr. for sale of rock cocaine and two counts of selling marijuana to 61-year-old Bonnie Moffet Sutton for three counts of trafficking hydrocodone.
“Sometimes it’s kids on a street corner. Sometimes it’s an older guy my age sitting under a tree who's been there all day selling for somebody else,” Steube said. “There isn’t any profile. Anybody is doing it these days."And there are always people to step right in behind those who are arrested.”