Multi-agency drug dealer sweep nets more than 70 arrests in Highlands County

SEBRING -- For more than a year, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office has worked with local, state and federal partners on a massive operation targeting drug dealers and violent criminals in Highlands County. 

Dubbed Operation Triple Play, the long-term investigation was under the umbrella of an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that included the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Federal Bureau of Investigations; the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; the Sebring Police Department; the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office; and the State Attorney’s Office for the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

Working together, detectives and agents conducted long-term surveillance, made undercover buys, and utilized innovative investigative techniques to target some of Highlands County’s worst law breakers. The operation culminated this week with a surge of arrests as part of the federal Violent Crime Initiative (VCI). In total, more than 80 arrest warrants were issued and more than 70 people have been taken into custody. 

“We sought to remove violent offenders, repeat offenders, armed drug traffickers, distributors of narcotics that lead to fatal and non-fatal overdoses, federal and state probationers, gang members, and fugitives from our community’s most volatile and vulnerable neighborhoods that have a high frequency of violence,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. 

Most of those arrested as part of the operation are facing serious felony charges that could lead to lengthy stays in state prison, and some are even facing federal charges. 

“These are not small-time offenders,” Sheriff Blackman said. “The sale and use of illegal drugs is the nexus of a large percentage of the crimes in our county. Some of the people arrested as part of this operation are believed to have been involved in many of the shootings and murders that have taken place over the past year and a half. Those investigations are ongoing, and charges for some those murders may be filed in the near future.”

Operation Triple Play is most likely the largest and most productive investigation of its kind ever conducted in Highlands County, and comes as a result of a renewed focus on long-term narcotics investigations for the HCSO. 

“I re-established the Special Operations Division within the Sheriff’s Office to take on this task. One of the missions of that division was to establish strong partnerships with state and federal law enforcement agencies,” Sheriff Blackman said. “As a result, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office now has detectives that are task force members with the DEA, the FBI, the ATF and the US Marshals.

“I want to send my sincere thanks to all involved in this far-reaching and important operation. Today, Highlands County is a safer place to live and work thanks to the dedication of all those involved in Operation Triple Play.”