HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee says a year-long narcotics investigation put a dent in a major drug ring. Gee made the announcement with State Attorney Mark Ober Thursday afternoon.

The sting, dubbed Operation Hydro Hustlers, uncovered a drug trafficking organization operating right here under all of our noses. The investigation, which began in March of 2015, netted 22 arrests and revealed 10 grow houses. Eight of the houses were in Hillsborough County, while two were outside of the county.

Gee pointed the finger at Julio Alvarez as the ringleader. “We know he’s up from Miami. He’s been living here,” the sheriff said. “He was operating out of a house in the Carrollwood area, right next to a day school and a church.”

Gee explains that from that Carrollwood home, Alvarez would coordinate county wide operations.  Members of the organization would rent homes and then outfit them with additional air conditioners and other grow-specific equipment to make them suitable for growing and harvesting marijuana.

“These individuals are directed to place rental agreements and utilities in their name. They are given money to cover the monthly bills and are given a portion of the proceeds after a harvest of marijuana,” Gee said.

The sheriff’s office released video of some of the grow houses to illustrate how elaborately set up they were. This was no amature operation.

Those arrested are facing numerous charges, including racketeering, manufacture of cannabis and trafficking in cannabis.

Here are some highlights of Operation Hydro Hustlers:

  • 591 marijuana plants weighing 872 pounds were seized
  • 46.67 pounds of processed/packaged marijuana was seized with a value of $2.3 million
  • $123,061.00 in currency was seized
  • 21 cars, 2 trailers, 1 boat, 2 zero turn mowers were seized, with a value of more than $400,000.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office is now working with the judicial system to make sure all of those arrested have appropriately high bonds. They are also conducting hearings to make sure those who do come up with the funds to bond out of jail, aren’t doing so with illegally obtained cash.