CCSO: 13 arrested in Collier and Lee counties in Mexico-Texas-SWFL cocaine smuggling bust
A yearlong undercover investigation by the Collier County Sheriff's Office culminated in the arrest of 13 people Thursday on charges of cocaine trafficking and state racketeering.
Two kilograms of cocaine were seized, and suspects had conspired to traffic an additional 11.5 kilograms, worth approximately $350,000, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said. He said the powder cocaine had originated in Mexico and traveled through Texas before reaching the hands of traffickers in Immokalee.
'We keep seeing the link to those areas in everything we do,' he said. Small amounts of heroin, marijuana and prescription medication, as well as $180,000 in cash, were also seized.
The arrests were made in Collier and Lee counties and the suspects are being held on bonds ranging from $100,000 to $3.25 million. Five are being held for more than $1 million.
'I significantly doubt they'll be getting out too soon given the bonds they're involved in,' Rambosk said.
One suspect is still at large and officials have a warrant for his or her arrest.
Deputies say the bust prevented thousands of doses of cocaine from reaching the streets of Southwest Florida and hundreds of thousands of dollars from reaching the pockets of criminals.
'It hearkens back to the cocaine cowboys,' said Capt. Tom Storrar, of the Sheriff's Office, noting that the cocaine powder seized is in extremely pure form. 'It's a very high quality product, that's how we know we've disrupted the supply line.'
Bags of cocaine were discovered by a drug-sniffing dog in the insulation of a cooler. Further details about the undercover operation are expected to be released in the coming weeks, officials say.
The operation was the second major drug bust by the Sheriff's Office in the last nine months. In September, 18 people were arrested on charges of conspiracy to traffic drugs and $120,000 worth of heroin was seized.
'We're going to continue to do this,' said Rambosk.
The Sheriff's Office partnered with the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office, Lee County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct the investigation.
Among those arrested are Lanette Austile, 34; Victor Cossio, 23; Noe DeJesus, 33; Fredrick Green, 37; Fernando Guadarrama, 29; Michael Jackson III, 37; Erik Martinez, 25; Florentino Martinez-Jimenez, 43; Cordey Taylor, 37; Cristobel Torres, 23; William Washington, 47; Lee Wren, 67; and Bernardo Fernandez, who was arrested Thursday evening, and whose age and photo were not available.