BUNNELL, Fla. -- Eleven search warrants were issued following a seven-month undercover operation called "Operation Bad Dreamer", which targeted the unlicensed sale of tobacco products.
According to a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office press release, more than 80 officers served the warrants early Thursday morning. The officers who were from several state and local agencies took to the streets of Flagler and St. Johns Counties.
Representatives from the State Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco, North East Florida HIDTA, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Flagler County, St. Johns County and Putnam County Sheriff's Offices, Palatka and St. Augustine Police Departments, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency and the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Statewide Prosecutors Office, 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office were present at the 3:30 p.m. Thursday press conference.
The investigation later discovered that the crime organization was also tied to manufacturing and distributing synthetic marijuana, also known as "spice". The group was also involved in selling drug paraphernalia as far south as Miami.
The warrants were served at the alleged labs in Flagler and St. Johns Counties, according to the press release. Investigators also conducted searches at many of the private residences and storage units where the product was allegedly stored before it was distributed.
More than 160,000 packets were confiscated, which is believed to be for distribution, and has a street value of $402,000. Also, more than $70,000 seized as well as 1 kilo of pure synthetic drug also seized.
Law enforcement charged five unknown individuals with violating State Racketeering Laws, 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. The suspects could face sentences of up to 60 years in prison if convicted.
According to the release, all 11 suspects are in custody.
Suspect, 50-year-old Mark Dickinson, is allegedly the ringleader and he alone faces between 60 years to life in prison.
St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff David Shoar said, "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.
"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."
Suspects and Charges include:
42-year-old Kellie Ann Barnette is currently being held in the St. Johns County Jail on a $870,000 bond. Barnette's charges include two counts of public order crimes, six counts of selling opium or a derivative and four counts of drug equipment possession.
Mark Hayley Dickinson is being held on a $1,500,000 bond and faces charges of dangerous drugs and public order crimes.
23-year-old Robert Clark Nicholson is charged with two counts of selling opium or a derivative and drug equipment possession. Nicholson is currently being held in the St. Johns County Jail on a $55,000 bond.
Martha Ellen Welzant, 51 is being held on a $110,000 bond and is facing two counts of synthetic narcotic selling, two counts of drugs, health or safety violation and three counts of drug equipment possession.
John Abdal, 38, is charged with synthetic narcotic possession and opium or derivative selling. Abdal is held on a $75,000 bond.
Sheetal Jay Patel, 39, is charged with synthetic narcotic selling and is being held on a $25,000 bond.
Edward Robert Mims, 55, Ajay Patel, 47, and Carlos Fernando Dasilva, 42, has charges pending.
First Coast News