SARASOTA, Fla. -- After two years of hard work, local and federal authorities have wrapped up one of the region's largest drug busts in history.
We first told you about Operation SRQ Cartel II in February. Friday, the Sarasota Police Department, along with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, the DEA and the ATF, announced the conclusion of the operation.
33 arrests, 14 kilos of cocaine, and a whole lot of cash are now off the streets -- making many of the region's neighborhoods a safer place to live, work and play.
“I'm not naive enough to think that we eliminated drug sales in the two-county area with this operation. I think we put a dent in it and disrupted it pretty significantly.”
Authorities have worked the case for two years. “We are going to find you and arrest you and bring you to justice. We will do everything we can to keep our community safe,” said Chief Bernadette DiPino.
In total, $145,000 in cash, several firearms, and 14 kilos of cocaine were recovered during the investigation -- a street value of more than half a million dollars.
Police say three of those kilos belonged to Toborus Cunningham of Bradenton -- one of the alleged ringleaders of the criminal organization.
Cunningham is manager at a custom automotive shop, and rented a place from Frank Lacenere. Seems like a nice guy. Had my place up for rent, so I rented to him,” says Lacenere.
He became suspicious when Cunningham had people stopping by round the clock. “Middle of the night, I would get up and there were all kinds of people around here day and night.”
Getting Cunningham and the thirty-two other individuals off the street was crucial, says Lt. Pat Ledwith with Sarasota Police. “I think our neighborhoods are the victims of this crime first and foremost. Our neighborhoods are held hostage by individuals like this.”
And it was residents in those neighborhoods that significantly assisted the authorities with their investigation, calling in tips pertaining to drug activity going on.
Police say the majority of the cocaine was sold in North Sarasota.