Narcotics investigators with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office have announced the breakup of two peripherally related drug rings blamed for the sale and distribution of thousands of oxycodone pills.
The two-year investigation so far has resulted in federal indictments against 28 people. There also have been 64 people charged at the state level, some of whom already have been sentenced to prison.
"I can promise you these guys weren't just pill heads," Sheriff Chris Nocco said during a press conference today. "They were robbers and burglars and copper thieves, so we're going to see a drop in other crimes."
Investigators promised more charges as the probe continues.
"This problem isn't going to go away anytime soon," said Sgt. Bill Davis of the sheriff's vice and narcotics unit.
The bust highlights Pasco's ignominious place near the top of state rankings in prescription-related deaths.
Last year, 142 people in Pasco died of prescription drug overdoses, according to the medical examiner's office. Nearly 1,300 inmates went through detoxification at the county jail in 2010, and more than 1,000 have detoxed so far this year.
Fighting the epidemic has been a priority for Nocco since his appointment as sheriff in April. In September, county commissioners approved a sheriff's office budget that included money for three analysts, eight jail nurses, two sergeants and 10 detectives, all with an eye toward curbing prescription drug abuse.
At today's press conference, authorities said most of those charged belonged to an organization linked to the Humphrey family of Hudson. The family, led by Kathy Alvarez Humphrey, has been involved in criminal activity for several decades, detectives said, but became heavily involved in the narcotics trade more recently.
Kathy Alvarez Humphrey, 60, and 14 others were indicted by a federal grand jury Oct. 26.
Each of the 64 defendants charged at the state level is linked to the Humphrey organization, deputies said. One of those, Humphrey's son Keith, pleaded no contest to a trafficking charge in August and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Thirteen members of a second drug ring, called the Garcia/Barber organization, also were federally indicted, according to the sheriff's office. Among them was pharmacist Retsidstswe Griffith, owner of the New Tampa Pharmacy, at 2912 W. Waters Ave. in Tampa.
Pharmacists Brian Weiler and Treshena L. Dixon, who worked at Griffith's business, also face federal charges.
Investigators said the pharmacy supplied both drug rings.
The charges against the defendants range from doctor shopping and presenting fraudulent prescriptions to possession of prescription drugs and trafficking.
Detectives estimate the two organizations combined to move more than 400,000 oxycodone pills valued at $4 million in Florida and three times that amount in Tennessee and Kentucky, the destination for many of the medications.
Many of the pills were sold around Pasco.
The difficulty in acquiring oxycodone in Tennessee and Kentucky makes it a much more expensive commodity in those states. Investigators and county officials hope the recent implementation of a database monitoring prescription narcotics in Florida will help limit the supply, and in turn, force dealers to go elsewhere.
Despite the millions of dollars in business done by the rings, investigators said, the defendants have no significant assets. Most of the runners - people who went into the pharmacies and passed fake prescriptions - were paid in pills to feed their own addictions.