Crime

Operation Hot Batch is coming after heroin dealers in Manatee

David Earl Johnson
David Earl Johnson

The feds promised they weren’t going anywhere in the war against drugs, and they are keeping that promise.

Welcome to Operation Hot Batch. The feds — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service — have joined forces with Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to “disrupt and dismantle” the drug trade in Manatee.

Manatee County has been the epicenter of the heroin crisis in Florida, with more deaths than any other county, since overdoses spiraled out of control more than two years ago. The problem turned more deadly when dealers began cutting fentanyl — an opioid painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine — into heroin supplies or selling it as heroin.

More recently, carfentanil — 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and often used as a tranquilizer to subdue large exotic animals such as rhinos, elephants and hippos — is being cut into or sold as heroin.

Detectives are struggling to eliminate the sources, as they go after dealers and investigate a record-breaking number of overdose deaths.

Seven suspected heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil dealers are now facing federal charges thanks to Operation Hot Batch. Earlier this year, six members of a crime ring that resorted to violence — including murder to further their drug trade — were each sentenced to life in prison.

“At the U.S. Attorney’s Office we recognize Manatee County has a significant opioid problem,” said assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher F. Murray, chief of the violent crimes and gangs section. “It’s a nationwide crisis, but Manatee County has an acute problem.

“We are focused on disrupting and dismantling heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil distribution organizations,” Murray said.

Dealers are making significant money selling these lethal drugs in Manatee County, Murray said. Meanwhile, families across all socioeconomic statuses are being affected.

Six indictments have been handed up so far under Operation Hot Batch. The seven indicted in U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, are:

▪  Rakim “Montana” Waters, 26, of Bradenton, is charged with conspiracy to distribute carfentanil, possession with intent to distribute heroin mixed with carfentanil, distributing and possessing with intent to distribute heroin, two counts of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute carfentanil, distributing and possessing with intent to distribute heroin mixed with carfentanil.

▪  Jerrell Lamont Jackson, 29, of Bradenton, is charged with conspiracy to distribute carfentanil and distributing and possessing with intent to distribute carfentanil.

▪  Manvel L. “Hawaii” Canady, 26, of Palmetto, is charged with two counts possession with intent to distribute and distribute carfentanil.

▪  Jonathan “Fat” Solomon, 29, of Bradenton, is charged with five counts of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute heroin.

▪  Sergio Viera, 26, of Bradenton, is charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.

▪  Gavino “G” Corona, 23, of Bradenton, is charged with two counts possession with intent to distribute and distributing carfentanil.

▪  David Earl Johnson, 36, of Bradenton, is charged with possessing with intent to distribute fentanyl and distributing fentanyl that contributed to a death and possession with intent to distribute and distributing fentanyl.

Through Operation Hot Batch, detectives and federal agents will continue to rigorously investigate these organizations and federally prosecute when appropriate, Murray said. Once a week, a federal prosecutor from the violent crimes and gangs section is meeting with detectives at the sheriff’s office.

Their task force recognizes that violent crime is driven by drug trafficking.

“So by cracking down on heroin and fentanyl distribution, we are also cracking down on violent crime,” Murray said.

In any case in which investigators can determine the dealer who sold the drugs is responsible for a fatal overdose, Murray said, there will be significant interest.

Charged with death

Johnson’s charges include selling Karli E. Hough the fentanyl that led to a fatal overdose. Hough, the wife of Assistant State Attorney Dickey Hough, had struggled with addiction for several years and had a criminal history as a result of that addiction.

Hough’s death on Jan. 11 was caused by the fentanyl overdose, her autopsy confirmed.

On the day of her death, detectives were able to organize a buy bust operation to track down the unknown male dealer who had sold Hough the fentanyl through a phone number, according to his initial arrest report. Undercover detectives called Johnson, saying they had gotten his number from a friend and had $100, and agreed to a meeting place.

When undercover detectives pulled up to Johnson in the 300 block of 50th Avenue Drive East, Johnson handed one of the detectives a bag with eight bags of heroin. The signal was given for other detectives to move in and arrest him.

Double-teams dealers

In another case, an undercover detective called Rakim “Montana” Waters on Oct. 4, using a phone number he had been given during a previous undercover buy, and said he wanted to buy $40 worth of heroin, according to the warrant affidavit. The two met at McDonald’s, 4711 14th St. W., Bradenton, and the detectives got into Waters’ car. Waters gave him two bags of suspected heroin in return for $40. The suspected heroin later tested positive for heroin and fentanyl.

On Oct. 6, the detectives again called Waters, this time requesting $60 worth of heroin, and the two arranged to meet at Burger King, 2319 Cortez Road W., Bradenton. The detective again got into Waters’ car, and gave him cash for the suspected heroin. The suspected heroin later tested positive for heroin.

On Oct. 11, an undercover detective called Waters, saying he wanted two bags of heroin, but Waters was in Orlando so he said he would send a friend, later identified as Jackson. The detective met Jackson at a Subway, 5108 15th St. E., Bradenton, and got into his car. Jackson gave the detective $40 in exchange for the two bags of heroin.

The alleged heroin was later tested, and it tested positive for carfentanil.

On Oct. 13, the two met again, and Waters sold the detective $40 worth of heroin at Burger King, 3803 1st St. E., Bradenton. The suspected heroin later tested positive for fentanyl.

On Oct. 20, the detective again arranged a drug deal with Waters and the two met at Wing Stop, 3553 1st St. E., Bradenton. Waters sold him $40 worth of heroin, which later tested positive for fentanyl.

Corona deals at World of Beer

On Sept. 20, an undercover detective was trying to buy some heroin, and Gavino “G” Corona sent him a text message saying he had “some good (expletive),” according to a warrant affidavit. The detective told Corona he wanted $100 worth of heroin, and they agreed to meet at World of Beer, 497 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.

At World of Beer, the detective got into Corona’s car and gave him $100 in exchange for six bags of heroin. The suspected heroin later tested positive for carfentanil.

Guns and drugs

Detectives with the sheriff’s office had been watching Sergio Viera’s mother’s home in the 1900 block of 50th Avenue Drive East in Bradenton, where he lived leading up to his initial arrest Feb. 21, gaining enough probable cause to get a judge to sign a search warrant, according to his initial arrest report. A traffic stop was conducted when he got into a vehicle and left the home.

As he was being detained, the SWAT team began the search of the home and found a shotgun in his bedroom, so he was arrested. A .40 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun reported stolen was also found when detectives searched the trunk of the car he was driving.

Detectives also found 267.9 grams of marijuana, 19 grams of methamphetamine, a scale with residue, baggies and 9 mm and .40 caliber ammunition during the search of Viera’s bedroom.

Viera has prior convictions for racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering and aggravated assault, yet was in possession of the 12-gauge shotgun, a .40 caliber pistol and about 74 rounds of ammunition, according to his indictment.

Jessica De Leon: 941-745-7049, @JDeLeon1012

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