OKEECHOBEE — Yet another Okeechobee man has been arrested for his alleged connection to a methamphetamine distribution ring apparently based out of Polk County.
The Sept. 8 arrest of Kenneth Ryan Padgett brings the number of people arrested on state racketeering charges to 24. Another 15 have been indicted by federal grand juries and are either under arrest or are being sought by federal authorities.
Those arrests or indictments came about after an 18-month investigation ended during the early morning hours of Aug. 28 when 15 takedown teams served the arrest warrants.
Those teams were made up of county, state and federal law enforcement personnel. Each team had eight members.
Padgett, 43, S.W. Fourth St., was arrested Tuesday on a warrant and is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
He was booked into the Okeechobee County Jail on $75,000. Jail records indicate he has been released on bond.
According to Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright, who will be prosecuting all those arrested on state charges, Padgett was involved in two transactions that totaled 1 gram.
Padgett, continued the prosecutor, was also heard offering to help bail out another man who had been arrested. That man had been arrested in a traffic stop after allegedly buying meth from Steven Lee ‘Wildman’ Oakes, 59, of Davenport.
Law enforcement considers Oakes to be the at the center of the meth distribution ring in this area, pointed out Mr. Albright.
“He (Oakes) would get the meth, bring it to Okeechobee then distribute it,” said Mr. Albright in an earlier interview. “This guy traveled to Lorida, to Okeechobee, to Glades County and to the (Brighton) Reservation. He was high up in the organization. We were able to show people getting it (meth) from Oakes and redistributing it.”
Mr. Albright, along with assistant state’s attorneys Don Richardson and Terry Tribble, rode with the takedown teams then interviewed those arrested.
The prosecutor went on to say a large number of the meth buys were done while under surveillance. Those buys were made by detectives with the Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force or agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Many of those arrested on state charges not only sold meth, but helped broker deals between Oakes and other distributors.
If convicted, those arrested on state charges could face a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Law enforcement is still looking for a number of people who are wanted on state charges.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News