Florida drug trafficking rings busted; Over 3 kilos of fentanyl seized

A person holds a plastic bag containing a fentanyl opiate.
A person holds a plastic bag containing a fentanyl opiate. | Getty Images

Authorities arrested nearly a dozen people involved in two Central Florida drug trafficking rings following a multi-agency investigation that resulted in the seizure of several kilograms of cocaine and fentanyl. 

Task force detectives with the Sheriff's Office Central Florida worked with federal, state and local law enforcement to arrest 10 men and one woman. Authorities conducted separate investigations into two drug trafficking rings — the Colon-Colon Drug Trafficking Organization and the Espinoza & Romero Central Florida Drug Trafficking Organization.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday that officials seized a total of 14 kilograms of cocaine and 3.5 kilograms of bulk fentanyl and fentanyl pills, along with four firearms, a vehicle and $12,985. 

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"I'm proud of our detectives and partner agencies who worked hard to remove 17.5 kilos of destructive drugs off the streets," Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement. 

"We are all working together to fight fentanyl, which is killing people by the thousands in the U.S. because of drug overdoses," the sheriff continued. "These drug traffickers are destroying lives, families and communities. These drugs go hand-in-hand with violence and misery in our communities."

The first investigation led to the arrest of five men. Undercover detectives suspected 56-year-old Pedro Luis "Bemba" Romero of Kissimmee was involved in selling cocaine. 

Romero had a criminal history that included robbery, trafficking in cocaine, other narcotics violations related to MDMA and cocaine, and federal narcotic violations, which led to an 80-month incarceration in federal prison. 

Detectives arranged to buy a kilo of cocaine from Romero in Haines City in November 2023, and Romero is said to have brought to the transaction his 44-year-old drug supplier, Maximo Espinosa of Kissimmee. 

Investigators discovered that Espinosa was operating a drug trafficking organization between the northeast U.S., South Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico that dealt with cocaine and fentanyl. According to the authorities, Espinosa had previously been arrested federally for armed trafficking in heroin. 

The detectives set up other transactions, and during a December meeting, Espinosa provided an undercover detective with a sample of fentanyl before the detective purchased a kilogram of it from the drug trafficker. 

During another transaction on Jan. 2, Espinosa showed the undercover detectives 10 kilograms of cocaine and two kilograms of fentanyl that he had in the trunk of his car. The sheriff's office, working alongside other agencies, later took Espinosa into custody, along with two other individuals in a separate vehicle involved in the transaction. 

Authorities arrested the fentanyl suppliers, 35-year-old Pedro Mejia of West Palm Beach, and 22-year-old Pedro Olivares of Wimauma. A white BMW attempted to flee the scene, striking one of the undercover deputies in the leg, requiring the deputy to go to the hospital. Law enforcement officials tracked the vehicle and took the driver, 34-year-old Omar Veloz of West Palm Beach, into custody without further incident. 

"Detectives believe Romero was in the area of the drug transaction and fled the area undetected," the Polk County Sheriff's Office's announcement reads. "Romero was later arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and booked into the Polk County Jail." 

Suspects Veloz, Mejia and Olivares were charged and booked into the Polk County Jail, according to the release, while Espinosa was taken into federal custody. Espinosa is facing charges of drug trafficking. 

The second investigation resulted in the arrest of five men and one woman on Dec. 17. The suspects in the investigation are believed to have been part of a drug trafficking organization that sells cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths. Illegally made fentanyl often comes in various forms, and it is available on the drug market, according to the CDC. 

In a national survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC for Rasmussen Reports, 91% of participants said they believe the country's fentanyl issue is serious, with 73% describing it as a "very serious problem." 

The survey was conducted by phone from Sept. 26 to Sept. 27, with a margin sampling of error of +/- 3 percentage points and a 95% confidence level.

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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