OKEECHOBEE — Fifteen people, including nine Okeechobee residents, were arrested Friday on federal indictments for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
As many as 29 more arrests on state charges were expected Friday. Those suspects were either arrested or are being sought on state attorney warrants. Each of those individuals was charged with one count of violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), said Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright who will be prosecuting those cases.
The 18-month operation was centered on Okeechobee, but also included Glades, Highlands and Polk counties.
According to Major Noel Stephen, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), the bulk of those arrested are from Okeechobee County. But, he added arrests were also made in Glades, Highlands and Polk counties.
“A lot of our meth is coming from Mexico to Polk County and is then being distributed here,” offered the major. “The meth is 90 to 95 percent pure.”
He went on to say 18 pounds of meth, worth an estimated $800,000, was collected during this investigation.
Chief of Police Denny Davis said, without question, the Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force — made up of personnel from the OCSO as well as the Okeechobee City Police Department — deserves recognition for their work in this probe.
“The narcotics task force worked tirelessly on this investigation and spent hours upon hours putting this together,” he said. “They did an exceptional job.”
Maj. Stephen agreed by saying “I am extremely proud of the task force and the job they do to clean up our community.”
The takedowns started at 4 a.m. Friday and were carried out simultaneously in the four counties.
Arrested locally on federal distribution charges were: Daniel John Alsdorf, 58; Teresa Lee Green, 45; Felisha Michelle Leitner, 28; David Allen Sparks, 49; Jamie Lea Hewitt, 35; Jessica Marie Bell, 28; Vickie Lynn Johnson, 47; Travis Wayne Carr, 23; and Timothy Dale Reid, 49.
Also arrested by federal authorities were: Steven Lee Oakes, 59, of Davenport; Jetta Lyn Frake, 45, of Lorida; Lacy Junior Locklear, 47, of Davenport; Stephen Patrick Hall, Jr., 35, of Dundee; James Ledger ‘Buddy’ Carter, 61, of Lakeport; and Tanner Lyn Carter, 22, of Lakeport.
Oakes, said Maj. Stephen, was the main cog in the meth wheel.
Even though Oakes is from Davenport, Sheriff Paul May said he “spends a large, large amount of time in Okeechobee.”
A press release from the office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, stated that all of the 15 defendants “… conspired to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine from as early as July 2014 and continuing to and including Aug. 6, 2015, in Okeechobee and Highlands counties.”
In addition to the conspiracy charge, a number of defendants were also indicted for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in various amounts up to 50 grams or more.
• Alsdorf is charged with possession to distribute 5 grams or more of meth on April 28, 2015.
• Green is charged with possession to distribute a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of meth on March 10, 2015.
• Johnson is charged with possession with intent to distribute 5 grams or more of meth on March 31, 2015.
OCSO records show Johnson was arrested July 19, 2015, on a felony charge of possession of methamphetamine. She was arrested again Aug. 16 on one felony count of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling.
Those arrested on state charges were: Herbert Rivers, William Brumley, Andrea Prewitt, Clayton McIntyre, Ladonna Hopewell, Thomas Lowe, Herman Sutton, Daniel Lamar Tindall, William Arrieta, Danielle Harmon, Jennifer Cosden, Lance Heaberlin, Ramon Rivero, Jessica Rutherford, Aubrey Waldron, Cynthia Carr, Robert Fortier, Bobby Fulford, Dwayne Ingalls and Clayton McIntyre.
A number of suspects are still being sought, offered Mr. Albright.
Although not all of these people are local, Sheriff May said “90 percent of them are from Okeechobee.”
The federal indictment will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Courtney L. Coker and Special Assistant United States Attorney Ryan L. Butler.
In a prepared statement, Mr. Albright said he has reviewed the 35 cases submitted to him and has direct-filed one state count each of conspiracy to commit racketeering on 29 separate individuals.
“Each of these individuals were shown to have been a part of, and contributed to, the criminal enterprise headed by Oakes,” he said. “Each of them redistributed, assisted in redistribution or otherwise assisted and contributed to the criminal organization.”
As many as 15 SWAT teams from various law enforcement agencies took part in Friday’s execution of the arrest warrants. Those agencies were: OCSO; the Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force; Okeechobee City Police Department; Glades County Sheriff’s Office; Highlands County Sheriff’s Office; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE); St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office; Fort Pierce Police Department; Fort Pierce Offices of the United States Marshals Service; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HIS); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Port St. Lucie Police Department; Martin County Sheriff’s Office; United States Border Patrol; and, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.
Maj. Stephen said the defendants are now going to pay for their crimes and the lives they have ruined.
“I’ve always heard if you’re going to dance you’d better be prepared to pay the fiddler.
Well, a lot of people have been dancing in the drug trade in Okeechobee County. Today, the fiddler was paid,” he said.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News