Local and federal authorities announced on Thursday the arrests of 64 people over an 18-month period for their involvement in several gang and cocaine trafficking organizations that spanned from the Glades area east Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee Groves.
Of the dozens netted during “Operation Wild West,” 17 of them were documented gang or associate gang members in Palm Beach County, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said at a news conference Thursday. Further, 29 of those arrested will face federal drug trafficking charges, while the rest will face state weapons and drug charges.
“To me, the most significant thing that we’ve done here is take these people out of the system,” Bradshaw said. “I guarantee you this is going to make a difference.”
Among other things, sheriff’s agents — working with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office — seized 10 kilograms of powdered cocaine, more than 100 pounds of marijuana, and more than $300,000 in cash and jewelry.
The bust, Bradshaw said, “disrupted” the dealings of three gangs: Little Rock Dogs, Jack Boyz and Dogs Under Fire, whose respective operations run from Belle Glade and Pahokee east to Wellington and Royal Palm Beach.
The investigation started with a $10 street-level buy by an undercover agent, Bradshaw said. Agents then worked their way up, taking an “entire group of people” of the streets.
Those people were armed, he said. Agents also seized 12 firearms — such as an AK-47 and other semi-automatic weapons — and a ballistic vest: weapons that are often used in retaliatory shootings and against deputies who patrol the streets.
According to a criminal complaint filed by a DEA agent involved in the investigation, two of the arrested — Tomas and Israel Cardona — allegedly supplied cocaine to Carlos Jose Marcelo, who in turn is accused of distributing the cocaine to other dealers across South Florida.
DEA agents investigated the three men from November 2011 to April 2012 and listened in on phone conversations between the them regarding when shipments of cocaine might arrive in South Florida. Agents even heard Marcelo say that he was selling out of his cocaine supply faster than he could get it. Much of that cocaine was being sold to people like Francisco Lorenzo, who is facing possession and distribution charges, in areas such as Loxahatchee Groves.
The three were arrested in April. Agents seized about seven kilograms of cocaine from Marcelo after they pulled him over near his home on Dogwood Road in suburban West Palm Beach.
Bradshaw said that he expects future arrests stemming from Operation Wild West. “We’re getting violent people off the streets.”
Meanwhile, Bradshaw also announced on Thursday the arrest of seven other men; arrests that are independent of Operation Wild West.
The men were arrested in connection to a series of shootings in Belle Glade during the past few months — including two drive-by shootings.
Lt. Scott Smith, of the sheriff’s Violent Crimes unit, added that he expects to close out two unsolved homicides out of the Glades area and connect them to at least one of the seven men.
Of that list, Bradshaw said, two of the men —Edward Shine, 25, and Jean Mila, 28 — were major players in recent shootings in the Glades. Shine is facing charges of attempted first-degree murder, while Mila faces firearm possession charges.
“These thugs, these gang members are shooting at each other,” Bradshaw said. “When they are spraying 30 rounds… where are the rest of the bullets going to go?”
Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.
OPERATION WILD WEST
Local and federal authorities have arrested 64 people over the past 18 months on various drug and weapons charges. They also seized:
- About 10 kilograms of powder cocaine
- Five ounces of crack cocaine
- 215 marijuana plants
- More than 100 pounds of processed marijuana
- 12 firearms
- a ballistic vest
- 10 vehicles
- About $300,000 in cash
- Jewelry worth $30,000