Volusia County Sheriff’s Office: Major drug distribution ring dismantled
Just days before Mother’s Day in 2018, a pregnant woman in Volusia County went to Tallahassee to smile for the Florida Lottery cameras.
That woman, Karlee Harbst, had won $1 million in the $5,000,000 Gold Rush Doubler game.
She was on what gamblers call a roll — she had won $100 in the same scratch-off game just a week before.
The wins capped a troubled past for the Florida woman who had already racked up a number of drug possession arrests, petit theft, contempt of court and driving with a suspended license charges in Volusia County, according to court records.
From lottery winner to jail
On Thursday, Harbst, perhaps a million richer but not lucky, according to law enforcement officials, was arrested and charged with solicitation to deliver heroin and unlawful use of a two-way device.
When she won the big lottery prize, she told Florida Lottery officials she bought the ticket because of its number. “When I saw the ticket was number 24, I had to get it; 24 is my favorite number,” NBC’s WESH2 reported.
A little over a year later, Harbst was one of nearly two dozen people arrested in a series of raids across Volusia County in connection with a yearlong drug trafficking investigation by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.
Federal authorities and various police agencies were also a part of the ongoing narcotics task force investigation dubbed “Operation: Smooth Criminal,” named for the 1987 Michael Jackson hit single.
South Florida connection
One man from South Florida, Pembroke Pines’ Kenneth Tremaine Rowell, 44, was arrested in Miami-Dade Thursday as part of the Volusia sting by members of the South Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Rowell’s court record shows charges for cocaine possession and trafficking, cannabis possession and trafficking and sale near a school. Rowell is being held on a $7,500 bond and has a June 14 court hearing in Miami-Dade.
In a video posted to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the drug busts — which also confiscated caches of weapons — were aimed at bringing down ringleaders and street level dealers.
“The message is loud and clear to these scumbags out there: If you come into this county and insist on dealing this poison and destroying families, the whole force of the federal justice system will fall on you,” he said. “You want to spend the rest of your life behind bars, have at it. We’re going to oblige you.”
The ringleaders and street level dealers are accused of being part of an organization that distributed drugs including heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.
Among the alleged ringleaders captured Thursday: Marcel “MJ” Green, 31, of Daytona Beach, and Robert Hamilton Jr., 34, of Ormond Beach, the News-Journal reported.
“I hope now, this time, going to big boy jail federal prison will be a little different,” Chitwood said in the press conference video his department released.
“I hope this is just a spring flood that turns into a major flood of intel and maybe solve some homicide cold cases of other crimes,” Chitwood said.
The sheriff said that he hoped the 21 arrests in nine locations would also make some of the suspects come to a strong reckoning. “When these knuckleheads who think they are tough toting guns and shooting guns around neighborhood may not get out til they are 60 year olds.”
Chitwood added that hundreds of hours were invested to take the organization down. “To make the streets a little bit safer from this deadly scourge.”