Panhandle officials bust Mexico-based cartel

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2012

Florida Panhandle deputies and investigators helped put a big dent in a Mexico-based drug cartel that was allegedly using three houses in Washington County, Fla., as a base to distribute marijuana all across the state, The Dothan Eagle reported this week.

Officers arrested a dozen people in raids Monday night and in subsequent searches this week. They seized more than 75 weapons, 217 bundles of marijuana and $617,891 in cash. Four of the people arrested are from Vernon, Fla.

According to a press release from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the arrests were the result of a months-long investigation by that agency and the Chipley Police Department, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, and federal agencies including Homeland Security/ICE, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Canine teams from prisons in Holmes and Walton counties and the Northwest Florida Reception Center were also used in the case.

Three warrants were served Monday on residences in the Washington County community of Vernon, Fla.

The investigation focused on a Mexican drug operation known as the Gulf Cartel, officials said. The cartel’s reported mission was to move drugs from McAllen, Texas, to the safe houses in Vernon, then use those as major distribution points for drugs that were sold in Bay, several neighboring counties and larger cities farther south and east, like Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville.