|September 12, 2013
Contact: Whitney Ray
Phone: (850) 245-0150
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Contact: Lt. Bob Weber
Public Information Officer, Flagler Sheriff’s Office
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—More than 80 law enforcement officers from several state and local agencies took to the streets of Flagler and St. Johns Counties early this morning to serve eleven search warrants following a seven-month undercover investigation targeting the unlicensed sale of tobacco products.
The investigation, initially launched by the State Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, quickly expanded when it was later discovered that the targeted crime organization was tied to manufacturing and distribution of synthetic marijuana, also known as “Spice.” Investigators said the same group was involved in the sale of drug paraphernalia, used in the ingesting of these products, as far south as Miami.
The investigation, named “Operation Bad Dreamer,” involved members of the ABT, the North Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program, The Tri-County Narcotics Task Force comprised of investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam County Sheriff’s Offices, Palatka Police Department, St. Augustine Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency and U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Investigators worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Office of State Attorney R.J. Larizza of the 7th Judicial Circuit throughout the investigation in securing both search and arrest warrants.
Investigators executed the search warrants at labs in Flagler and St. Johns counties, which investigators say were used for the manufacturing of the synthetic marijuana. Investigators also conducted searches of several private residences and storage units in both counties where the product was being stored for later distribution.
Investigators have charged five individuals with violating State Racketeering Laws (R.I.C.O.), sale of controlled substances, delivery of drug paraphernalia, leasing and maintaining property used in the manufacturing of controlled substances as well as tobacco tax evasion. Conviction on these charges could result in sentences of up to 60 years in prison. Additionally, Mark Haley Dickinson is charged with continuing criminal enterprise, the "kingpin statute," which is punishable by a life sentence. In all, eleven people have been taken into custody.
The operation was supported by members of the Flagler and St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams and the St. Johns County Clandestine Lab Enforcement team.
“The synthetic compounds are marketed to our youth and young adults. They become the target of drug dealers who intentionally market these compounds through slick and gimmicky packaging. Those young people who unwittingly experiment with these types of products often find themselves ending up in hospital emergency rooms across the country,” said Flagler County Sheriff James L. Manfre. “It is essential that we do everything possible to keep people from using these illegal substances and that we continue to actively pursue anyone responsible for manufacturing or selling these dangerous synthetic compounds.”
"Synthetic drugs are wreaking havoc on our youth, and I am grateful to all of the partnering agencies that have brought down five people for allegedly maintaining the property used in manufacturing these drugs and distributing these dangerous drugs. My Office of Statewide Prosecution and State Attorney R.J. Larizza 's Office will prosecute these individuals to ensure that justice is served," stated Attorney General Pam Bondi.
“Putting profit over our children, these drug dealers are hurting our communities,” said FDLE Jacksonville Regional Operations Center Special Agent in Charge Dennis Bustle. “Law enforcement will continue to aggressively pursue both the manufacturers of synthetic drugs and those who sell them. We will do everything in our power to ensure these drug dealers pay a high price for selling these drugs.”
Sheriff David Shoar with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office added, “There is an obvious increase in the use of these types of drugs. As law enforcement continues to address this type of criminal activity, there has been an identifiable increase in the types of abnormal behavior and violence associated with the use of synthetic drugs to include bath salts.” Sheriff Shoar further added, “I commend all agencies involved in this operation and the men and women of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office who are always willing to assist and offer support from special teams; such as the Clandestine Lab Enforcement Team and other Special Operations Section.”
The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco is charged with keeping alcohol and tobacco out of the hands of underage persons, to ensure that licensed establishments are in compliance with the laws and rules regulating the industry in Florida and to collect taxes and fees related to these industries.