Fla. Drug Ring Bust Nets 74 Suspected Dealers

CLERMONT, Fla. — A ring of 74 suspected drug dealers — some operating with children present — didn't stray far from home when they infiltrated the county with cocaine, heroin and prescription pills, authorities said Tuesday.

But after a four-month undercover investigation members of the drug ring were caught redhanded, the Lake County Sheriff's Office announced. The charges resulted from the operation dubbed "Close to Home," which was prompted by citizen complaints. Investigators seized two pounds of heroin, seven ounces of cocaine and about 300 prescription pills, totaling nearly $140,000 in street value.

"This is a huge bust," Sheriff Gary Borders said Tuesday. "They [suspects] never went too far from home. They were making these transactions…where families are shopping with their kids."

Arrest warrants have been served on 67 suspects so far in the investigation conducted along with Clermont, Mount Dora and Leesburg police departments, the Polk County Sheriff's Office and the Orlando division of the U.S. Marshal's Office. The state Department of Children and Families is also involved — kids found in the houses searched have been placed with other family members.

"We work every day to put drug dealers in jail," Borders said. "We rely so heavily on community involvement and for the community to call us."

Investigators also seized 23 vehicles, including two BMWs and two Suzuki motorcycles, along with 20 guns and about $33,000 in cash. The vehicles will be sold or used by the participating agencies, Borders said.

Most of the suspects, ranging in age from 18 to 60, are from south Lake, sheriff's spokesman Lt. John Herrell said.

Borders said the suspected ring leader, Michael Alberto Gonzalez, 27, of Clermont, has a history of drug and criminal charges and was "a danger to this community."

Clermont police Chief Charles Broadway encouraged residents to speak up.

"This is great for our city to put these drug dealers where they belong."

Copyright 2014 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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