TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Twenty-one people were arrested after a three-month investigation into a drug ring in Hillsborough County, according to authorities.
In a Monday morning press conference, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister described the success of “Operation Checkmate,” which sought to take apart a “violent gang’s distribution of deadly narcotics.”
Two arrests were said to be top leaders in the Latin Kings, an international gang known for their violent activity. Recently, two members were arrested in Texas for a mass shooting at a Tampa nightclub, officials said last October.
“In a game of chess, checkmate is a term used when the king on the chessboard cannot escape,” the sheriff said. “It’s game over, and in this operation, checkmate is very fitting.”
The leaders were said to be 32-year-old Fidencio Robles, one of the top five Latin Kings in Florida, and 30-year-old Omar Bravo, the head narcotics supplier in Florida.
“With the help of 19 other criminals, the Latin Kings were aggressively trafficking massive amounts of narcotics with no regard for the devastating and deadly effects their drugs have on destroying lives,” he said.
According to the sheriff, Bravo was “so brazen” that he was putting pictures of his cash, jewelry, and guns on social media.
Deputies said they seized over $800,000 in drugs and other items bought with illegally earned cash.
Chronister said detectives executed search warrants on five homes in the Wimauma area Thursday, which were used as storage and distribution centers for the Latin Kings’ drug operation.
“We seized nearly a million dollars worth of narcotics,” he said. “That included five kilograms of fentanyl, which is enough to kill every single person here in Hillsborough County twice.”
Other narcotics found in the searches were two kilograms of cocaine, two kilograms of methamphetamine, one kilogram of heroin, and two pounds of marijuana.
The sheriff said deputies also found 15 firearms — including handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles — and various luxury items like cars, designer bags, and jewelry.
“In the wrong hands, imagine the violence this arsenal could be responsible for,” Chronister said. “I’m eager for our firearms lab to determine if there is a nexus between these guns and the unsolved crimes the Latin Kings may have been involved in.”
However, the crown jewel of the deputies’ discoveries was a Latin King operational manual and organizational chart.
“There are very few of these copies in existence, and they are fiercely protected by the gang members,” Chronister said.
The sheriff said nearly 100 roosters were found at the homes, so deputies are now investigating the wellbeing of the birds and whether they were used in cockfighting rings.
“For now, the reign of this violence and brutal destruction that the Latin Kings caused is over,” Chronister said.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said her office will help work to combat violent criminals like the Latin Kings with harsh action.
“They need to be pursued and taken out of our communities,” Moody said.
She also urged parents to warn their children on the dangers of drug use, especially with the trend of drugs being laced with fentanyl.
“They will kill with one pill, one use,” Moody said. “If you are struggling right now, get help.”
The suspects will be charged with various crimes, with Moody saying they will definitely face first-degree felonies.