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Major drug dealer arrested in Manatee, sheriff says

MANATEE — A major drug dealer arrested in Manatee County was the leader of a cocaine trafficking ring in Manatee and Sarasota counties, officials said.

Federal and local authorities arrested Jesus “Jesse” Guzman, also known as Antonio Marroquin, on drug charges last week as part of a two-year investigation dubbed “Operation SRQ Cartel,” according to a statement released Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa.

Guzman was arrested during a raid at an auto dealership, Exotic Auto Sports, at 2027 Whitfield Park Drive, which Guzman is believed to have owned, Sheriff Brad Steube said. During the raid of the business, Guzman was arrested and detectives seized more than three kilograms of cocaine and weapons, according to the sheriff.

“We believe he is a major drug dealer in Manatee and Sarasota counties,” Steube said. “We think he was moving a couple of kilos a week.”

The raid was conducted by Manatee sheriff’s detectives along with Sarasota Police Department detectives, and DEA agents as part of the operation. Steube said detectives in Manatee had been investigating Guzman for some time, and discovered that several other men under investigation by Sarasota police had ties to Guzman.

“Our case crossed paths and we started to work together,” Steube said.

Federal authorities joined forces with Sarasota police and Manatee sheriff’s investigators not only to arrest Guzman, but 11 men in Sarasota believed to have been dealing drugs under Guzman, according to Sarasota Police Capt. Paul Sutton. Guzman and the 11 men have all been indicted on federal charges.

During the two-year investigation, detectives and federal agents seized $350,000 in cash, more than $1 million in property, and four kilograms of cocaine. Sutton said the dismantling of the ring caused the price of a kilogram of cocaine to rise from $18,000 to $30,000, a sign that the busts took a significant amount of drugs off the street.

The operation also took a very dangerous man in Guzman off the street, Sutton said. Guzman has an extensive arrest record, and at the time of his arrest had been a fugitive for seven years on drug dealing charges, Sutton said.

“For Sarasota, this is big as it gets,” Sutton said of the operation.

Guzman and the others indicted will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which also praised the operation.

“This was a major operation and these men face significant time, and will get their day in court,” said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Steve Cole.

Robert Napper, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7024.