Fentanyl drug bust in Florida

BARTOW — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office just made a significant drug bust, one that’s been linked to Mexican drug cartels.

“Our detectives seized over 11 pounds of fentanyl, which is enough to kill 2.7 million people,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “This poison is coming into the country across the border from Mexico, and we are going to continue our investigation into the Mexican drug cartels who are killing innocent people.”

How Did This Fentanyl Drug Bust Happen?

The case was handled by detectives with the Central Florida HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) task force in coordination with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. This undercover fentanyl drug trafficking investigation led to the arrest of three men and represents the largest seizure of fentanyl in the history of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the report by Carrie Horstman, the public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the fentanyl was being manufactured in Mexico and sent into the U.S. to be made into synthetic pills that were being sold on the streets. The investigation started in September, when detectives “received information that an international drug trafficking organization was trafficking multi-kilograms of fentanyl from Mexico to Bradenton and then into Polk County,” Horstman noted in her report. “Undercover detectives arranged to purchase fentanyl priced at $24,000 per kilo from an unidentified source in Mexico.”

Who Got Arrested In this Fentanyl Bust?

The sheriff’s office noted that the facilitator for the drug buy was  Ignacio Rodriguez, 28, of Bradenton. “Rodriguez confirmed that the source for the fentanyl in Mexico would only deal in large amounts (kilos) and explained that the price fluctuated based on the quality of the drug,” Horstman noted.

Detectives made the bust after negotiating to buy $60,000 worth of fentanyl on Sept. 19.

“Rodriguez showed up to the meeting in Polk County with five kilograms – two kilos of the fentanyl was concealed in a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box, and the remaining three kilos was concealed in a yellow Igloo cooler,” Horstman noted. “Rodriguez warned the detectives to be careful or they might overdose. He recommended they wear a mask and gloves; he suggested that they drink milk before ingesting the drug to help with feelings of tightness in their chests. He also told detectives he could sell them marijuana, meth, and cocaine.”

Two other suspects,  Mario Alberto Castro Solache, 29, of Raleigh, N.C. and Pedro Mondragon, 27, Lillington, N.C., were also arrested as part of this investigation after Castro Solache drove to Polk County from North Carolina to meet with detectives for a multi-kilogram sale of fentanyl, accompanied by Mondragon.

“Castro Solache told detectives that he and the supplier in Mexico wanted to establish a portion of their drug trafficking organization in Polk County,” Horstman noted, while adding that Castro Solache planned to move to Polk County to be responsible for handling the local operations for the Mexican cartels.

The suspects were taken into custody on Oct. 12 and booked into the Polk County Jail. During their interrogation, Horstman noted, “They told detectives that they are being paid to collect money for the fentanyl drug dealer in Mexico.”

 Castro Solache is being charged with conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl , a felony, and is in the country illegally. He now has a Border Patrol hold in the Polk County Jail.

Mondragon was charged with conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl. He bonded out of jail on Oct. 17.

Rodriguez was taken into custody by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on a Polk County warrant for trafficking in fentanyl, conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl, possession of a vehicle for drug trafficking, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and possession of drug paraphernalia. He got released from the Manatee County Jail on Oct. 15 after posting bond in the amount of $56,500. 

Detectives say the Mexican supplier of fentanyl needed money from the drug sales to pay two known cartels, La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa Cartel.

Partnering agencies in this investigation included The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, U.S Border Patrol, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations Tampa Office; and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. 

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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