TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — There are more than 4,000 miles of interstate in Florida. On any given day, those highways are used to transport drugs and people entering the country illegally.
The Florida Highway Patrol has several elite teams of state troopers that are trained to look for human traffickers and people transporting drugs.
In Martin County recently, a state trooper pulled over a driver for a simple traffic violation. The traffic stop led to a much larger investigation. Inside the vehicle, the trooper noticed several bottles labeled as “Windex,” but something just didn’t look right about the contents in the containers to the trooper.
The Special Strike Force of troopers then began to look over the entire vehicle, examining the contents of the bottles and interviewing the driver and his passenger. A field test of the liquid in the Windex bottle soon confirmed it was a shipment of liquid methamphetamine.
Sergeant Hazen Ogden of the Florida Highway Patrol is with the Special Strike Force and says the man transporting the drugs made a crucial mistake.
“Right next to the illegal substance that had the meth in it was a valid Windex bottle and the colors are different and you can visually see it’s not the same thing,” said Sgt. Ogden.
The troopers took two people into custody as a result of the traffic stop and drug seizure. One of them is a man with a long criminal history.
“After speaking with the individual, they learned he’s a convicted felon. They found a firearm in the car and he has a lengthy criminal history for drugs,” said Ogden.
The Special Strike Force is made up of members of the Florida Highway Patrol, as well as the F.D.L.E, local sheriff’s offices and border patrol. The teams focus on different areas of the state.
“We chose this area as one we haven’t been to in quite some time,” said Ogden as he drove through Martin County on patrol. There are 26 of the specially trained teams in Florida.
“They are strategically placed around the state to combat or intercept or prevent criminals and illegal commodities from driving up and down the highways,” said Ogden.
They have had success. From June 2022 through July 2023, the strike teams seized 8 pounds of fentanyl, 5.4 pounds of methamphetamine and 178 grams of MDMA. They’ve also had a number of cases of stopping the flow of illegal aliens from coming into the state from the Mexican border through Arizona and Texas as they drive into the state on the major highways.
In a recent case in Sumter County, state troopers stopped a vehicle packed with seven men. None spoke English and none had any identification. It was determined through the investigation that they had entered the country illegally and paid someone to be taken to Florida.
This was the fifth human smuggling case on Interstate 75 in just two weeks.
“Sumter County is unique in that one particular aspect is that it has I-75 and the Turnpike,” said Ogden. Those major highways funnel into the rest of the state. “It’s kind of a crossroads for smuggling.”
The Highway Patrol Strike Force charged 42 people for human smuggling in one year, captured 38 fugitives, and seized 30 guns. Ogden says his team wakes up every day for this kind of work.
“The influx of individuals, drugs, and contraband affects the entire state, every county we have,” said Ogden.