Three suspects are in the Escambia County Jail, charged in connection with what authorities call the largest heroin bust in a decade.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, DEA, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are also involved in the case.
Fifty-year-old James Mitchell, 23-year-old Phoebe Roper and 28-year-old Justin Williams are accused of running the operation. The charges include drug trafficking, and possession of narcotics equipment. Mitchell is also charged with battery and resisting an officer with violence.
Morgan says they noticed an uptick in heroin sales about two years ago.
“And of course, unfortunately, in Escambia County we continue to monitor the nation as a whole,” said Morgan. “So this is not particularly unique to our area, but it is growing throughout the country.”
The ECSO’s Narcotics Unit and SWAT team served multiple search warrants Tuesday morning at two residences in the Bellview area. The bust produced a quantity of so-called “Black Tar” heroin – produced largely in Mexico and smuggled into the United States.
Along with the ‘H,” – which has a street value of more than $45,000 -- a quantity of cash, jewelry, weapons – including a fully automatic machine gun – and ammunition were seized. Deputy Lt. Robert Quinada, who led the raid, says it appears that since the raids on a number of prescription drug rings both here and elsewhere, heroin has become the replacement drug.
“Two thousand-six, I would say is the last time that we got a significant heroin bust, and that was only nine grams” said Quinada. “With the shutdown of the pill mills, and all of the investigations that have been done statewide prescription narcotics – mainly Lortabs and Oxycodone –opium derivatives – I guess in busting those people, the next best thing is heroin.
James Mitchell is being held on $1 million bond; Phoebe Roper’s bond is $104,000, with a $26,000 bond for Justin Williams. State Attorney Bill Eddins says if convicted, Mitchell -- as the alleged ringleader -- faces the stiffer penalties. He adds that prosecutors will seek the maximum penalties for all three, and will not consider a plea bargain the case after consulting with the Sheriff’s Office.
The investigation is ongoing, and additional arrests are expected.