Panama City - Federal and local authorities say the group, called the Gulf Cartel was responsible for bringing millions of dollars worth of marijuana into Florida.
The co-ordinates raids began Monday night in Orlando and Washington County. Federal and local officers arrested more than 30 people total, and seized a staggering amount of evidence.
Eleven of the suspects, arrested Monday night, made their way into the federal courthouse in Panama City Wednesday. Four of the men are local. 70 year old Rufus Daniel Curington, 56 year old Charles Armstrong, 43 year old Joseph Jeter of Vernon, and 71 year old James Moore of Panama City.
US Attorneys claim the four played major roles, moving thousands of pounds of pot from Texas, into the panhandle, and then into other parts of Florida. The cartel reportedly used tractor trailers to haul the drugs from McAllen Texas to Vernon, where it was stashed in houses controlled by Curington and Jeter.
The indictment states Curington, Armstrong, and Moore handled distribution here in our area. The rest of the pot was shipped to Orlando and Jacksonville. Authorities say cartel members were unloading a shipment at Jeter's home Monday night when they showed up.
"The unload point or what they call a safe house they had around 20 people there. Once these officers arrived on scene everybody ran into the woods, so the federal agents had a helicopter in the air because of that it was an all night search," said Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock.
Officers seized 2700 pounds of marijuana in the trailer, along with a total of $615,000, and 75 guns. Haddock says the busts is a major blow to the local drug trade.
"When we can come up to the head of snake and cut the head off you've done a lot of damage to the distribution of drugs in this county, this area, this state, and other states," said Haddock.
Had these bundles of marijuana slipped through, authorities say they would have been sold locally, or in other parts of Florida. The money, like the millions of dollars already generated, would have returned to Washington County, then shipped back to Texas. Between the 12 people arrested here and 20 more arrested in Orlando Monday night, most of the cartel members are behind bars.
"I want to let the public know they still need to be safe. If they see somebody Hispanic male or somebody who looks out of the ordinary on River Road, Jeter Lane, Miller's Fairy Road, Creek Road, Shaky Joe Road, and that area please give us a call," said Haddock.
Washington County deputies picked up the latest suspect around 2:00 Wednesday afternoon. No word as to how many more people may be arrested.