"Operation PayDirt" results in largest drug bust in Okaloosa County history

Published: May. 30, 2018 at 6:19 PM CDT
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A multi-agency drug investigation has resulted in the arrest of 15 people in Okaloosa County.

Law enforcement is calling the bust the biggest in county history and say millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs are now off the streets.

"Okaloosa County is tied with West Palm Beach County as having the most heroin overdoses in the state of Florida," Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said.

Since August of 2017, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office has worked with local, state, and federal agencies to crack down on illegal drugs.

Now, after a 10-month investigation, officials said they believe they've made a considerable dent in the sale and use of opioids.

"I'm here to tell you that they hit a big hit," Sheriff Ashley said, "A matter of fact, for 2018, since February, our overdoses of heroin have dropped dramatically and it's because of this single effort."

Officials said "Operation PayDirt" recovered nearly $6.9 million in street value of heroin and fentanyl.

Law enforcement executed two search warrants in February 2018 where they found 3,582 grams of cocaine with a street value of nearly $900,000, 770 grams of fentanyl street valued at $6 million, 1,119 grams of cocaine with a street value of $100,000, seven grams of crack street valued at $500 and 45 grams of MDMA with a street value of $15,000.

They also recovered four weapons.

"It's just everywhere. The unfortunate part about this whole thing is, where does it end?" Sheriff Ashley said. "[In] 2017, we had 125 overdoses reported to our agency alone. Twenty-five of those resulting in death attributed to heroin and fentanyl. So far this year, mid-May, we've had 21 suspected heroin overdoses with three deaths. Still bad but much better."

The sheriff described the amount of fentanyl seized in this investigation is enough to kill 150,000 people, which is roughly the population of Okaloosa County.

"One milligram is a dose, two milligrams is an overdose. You're dead," Sheriff Ashley pointed out.

Sheriff Ashley described the organization as a gang and believes 33-year-old Kevin Powell Jr. is the head of the local operation, sourcing these drugs down to five other major players.

"The individuals that have been charged with trafficking, at this time they face a potential of 30 years in state prison," Bill Bishop with the State Attorney's Office said. "Because of the volume of the drugs involved in this case, several of those individuals are looking at anywhere between 25 years minimum mandatory to 15 years minimum mandatory. It will depend on their amount of drugs that can be associated with each individual."

Fifteen people are now behind bars, but officials warn they will continue to come after anyone else who may be involved.

"Those dealing drugs, the message I would send to them is: you're not safe in Okaloosa County," Sheriff Ashley said. "This is not a game. We have laws for a reason and it's to protect our citizens, even if it's from themselves."

The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, as well as the DEA, FDLE, Fort Walton Beach Police Department, and Crestview Police Department all participated in the operation.

"Men, women, and children are enslaved to addiction and die from overdoses. Families are torn apart because parents can't parent while high. Overcrowded emergency rooms are full of patients related to addition, withdrawal, and numerous health complications. Homelessness and Baker Act mental health issues increase. Theft and burglaries increase. Breeding ground for gangs, robberies and violent crime, job loss and lack of healthy productive workforce and loss of economic stability. That's all related to heroin, fentanyl, and [the] opioid crisis that we face, the state faces and the country faces," Sheriff Ashley said. "We have to have a new day of accountability. A new day of the judicial system is got to end, our laws have got to change. We've got to start holding people accountable for the lives that are being wasted and destroyed here."