SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday announced the largest seizure of heroin and fentanyl in the county’s history after a months-long investigation
Operation Paydirt began in August 2017 and led to the execution of two search warrants in late February at two homes in Crestview. The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are coming, according to Sheriff Larry Ashley.
“Okaloosa County is tied with West Palm Beach County in having the most heroin overdoses in the state of Florida,” Ashley said at a news conference. “I’m here to tell you that (our guys) hit a big hit. As a matter of fact, since February, our overdoses on heroin have dropped dramatically because of this single effort.”
Fifteen people were arrested in connection with the local drug operation and nearly $7 million worth of drugs were confiscated. The alleged leader, 33-year-old Kevin Powell Jr., is charged with trafficking heroin and trafficking cocaine, among other charges.
“It seems that none of these people are new to the criminal justice system,” Ashley said. “Accountability has to start somewhere. ... These convicted felons, they go right back to doing it. ... (They) should go to prison forever.”
The Sheriff’s Office seized 3,582 grams of heroin worth some $895,500, according to the Sheriff's Office. About 770 grams, or about 300,000 doses, of fentanyl worth $6 million on the street also was seized. About $100,000 worth of cocaine also was confiscated, as well as $500 worth of crack cocaine and $1,575 of MDMA.
According to Ashley, 1 milligram of fentanyl equals one dose and 2 milligrams is an overdose. The amount of the drug lawmen seized could kill 150,000 people from an overdose, almost the entire population of Okaloosa County, he said.
A pill press was taken from one of the homes, and hundreds of diet pills were found that investigators believe were to be converted into fentanyl.
Weapons were also taken: a 9mm Taurus semi-automatic rifle, which allegedly was stolen; a .22 caliber semi-automatic Ruger MKIII Hunter pistol with two magazines; an Intratec Arms AB-10 firearm; and a Sig Sauer .40 caliber handgun.
According to Ashley, all the suspects live in Okaloosa County. Other major players in the operation include Anthony Porter, 45, of Mary Esther; Gill McGee, 29, of Crestview; Keithen Brown, 40, of Crestview; Aaron Johnson, 33, of Fort Walton Beach; and Jamaal Hunt, 33, of Fort Walton Beach.
Nine other people face charges ranging from possession of a controlled substance to illegal use of a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Ashley said he wanted people to know that if they are involved in drug trafficking, they will get caught. Selling drugs is not a victimless crime like many believe, he said.
“You need to get into a rehabilitation center, you need to re-educate your mind and find some way to get off of this poison, because it’s going to kill you,” Ashley said. “Make yourselves known now and get it over with, because we’re coming. ... There’s no place in Okaloosa County for you.”
Federal, state and local agencies assisted in the investigation. Also present at the news conference were Chuck Bufalino from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Branden Findley, a Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force officer and the assisting case agent; Sheriff's Office Investigator Mitch Landis; Crestview Interim Police Chief Jamie Grant; Assistant State Attorney David Stephens, the lead prosecutor in the case; Bill Bishop, chief assistant state attorney; and Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Ed Ryan.
According to Ashley, the Sheriff's Office received 125 overdose reports in 2017, 25 of which were fatal. There have been 21 suspected heroin overdoses and three deaths so far this year.
“Still bad, but much better,” Ashley said.