Florida shuts down drug trafficking organization affiliated with Mexican cartels

Authorities seized more than 50 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill more than 11 million Floridians, approximately half of Florida’s population.

Published: October 12, 2022 5:31pm

Updated: October 12, 2022 11:54pm

(The Center Square) -

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shut down a major drug trafficking operation run by gang members affiliated with Mexican cartels, Moody's office announced Wednesday.

So far, 25 people have been charged, including SUR-13 (Sureños) gang members who already have multiple felony counts related to drug trafficking, violent criminal acts and conspiracy. They were arrested on a combined 64 first-degree felony counts. Many involved were already incarcerated in prisons in several counties in Florida.

Authorities also seized more than 50 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill more than 11 million Floridians, approximately half of Florida’s population.

As a result of this and other operations conducted over the last few months, Florida law enforcement officers have seized nearly 85 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill almost everyone in Florida.

“In just a few months’ time, authorities have seized enough fentanyl to wipe out the combined populations of 66 of Florida’s 67 counties, more than 19 million people,” Moody said in a statement. “The prevalence of this dangerous substance poses a critical threat not only to the well-being of the citizens of our state but also our nation. Until President [Joe] Biden takes action to address the border crisis that is emboldening Mexican drug cartels to bring record amounts of these dangerous substances across the border, fentanyl will continue to kill tens of thousands of Americans every year.”

According to authorities, incarcerated SUR-13 leaders operated a drug trafficking scheme inside Florida prisons working with the members of two MS-13 and Latin Kings gangs. The Mesa, the ruling body over the crime network, authorized the execution of inmates and distribution of drugs sourced from Mexico and California, investigators found. Using contraband cellphones, SUR-13 gang members communicated with each other from different prisons in Brevard, Charlotte, Holmes and Miami-Dade counties. They also stayed in communication with drug dealers outside the prisons to ensure drug shipments and deliveries.

In all, authorities seized more than 50 pounds of fentanyl, 380 pounds of methamphetamines, approximately five pounds of cocaine, one pound of oxycodone, one pound of black tar heroin and half a pound of morphine.

Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden, whose staff was involved in the operation, said that while his team may be smaller than others, his “narcotics unit is exceptionally adept at targeting major drug traffickers. When you couple that with the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody, we become a powerful force in combating drug dealers as witnessed in this operation that began in Hendry County.”

He also warned gang and cartel members: “if they set up in Hendry County, we will find them and eliminate them.”

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon said the arrests “underscore the dangers of cell phones in prison. Cell phones, like the ones used in this operation, open the door to a multitude of criminal enterprises and compromise the safety of our communities and our facilities. FDC has thousands of dedicated professional employees committed to disrupting these criminal networks and working collaboratively with law enforcement to protect Floridians.”

Last month, Moody and 17 other attorneys general called on the Biden administration to declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.

“We must not sit idly by until a terrorist chooses to inflict harm using this substance on a large group of Americans – our countrymen are already dying from this poison,” they wrote the president. “We cannot wait for tragedy to strike when proactive steps can be taken now to preserve American lives. We urge you, take immediate and decisive action and declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.”

They continued: “We are aware of scenarios that different federal and state agencies have considered utilizing and causing mass casualty events. Just two milligrams of fentanyl is needed to kill an adult, and it can easily be placed in other substances. … In addition to different government agencies looking at fentanyl related scenarios, fentanyl has already been used as a weapon – the Russian army used it to end a hostage crisis two decades ago, killing more than 120 hostages in the process.”

Two milligrams of fentanyl, the weight of a mosquito, is lethal. A teaspoon holds about 5,000 milligrams, enough to kill 2,500 people. One pound of fentanyl, or 453,592 milligrams, could kill 226,796 people.

In both fiscal years so far, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents confiscated enough fentanyl at the southern border coming in from Mexico to kill nearly 5 billion people.

Texas DPS officers working through Operation Lone Star have confiscated enough lethal doses of fentanyl at the Texas-Mexico border to kill everyone in the United States.

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