An Alleged Criminal Mastermind Goes Down in a Sarasota, FL Drug Bust

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

Sarasota, Florida is a destination most know for its sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and breathtaking landscape. Vacationers and residents often describe it as a relaxing resort atmosphere ideal for retirement and weekend getaways. A few years back, Florida officials suspected a rash of drug related crime in the area that threatened to tarnish the reputation of the town and possibly endanger the lives of its residents.

Operation Sarasota Cartel was originally a two year sting initiated by Florida law enforcement in 2010. The original program took down eleven alleged drug ring members in a notorious sting where Florida officials allegedly uncovered upwards from $1 million in drug money, weaponry and cocaine. It was reported that this original regional drug bust crippled the encroaching drug ring and escalated the price of cocaine in the area.

In January of 2010, police arrested Jesus Guzman, who was then believed to be the leader of the Sarasota Cartel. The federal raid swept automobile shops and local gas stations in an avid search for incriminating evidence. Guzman had a long standing fugitive status at the time of his arrest and officials in 2010 claimed that Guzman was “as big as it gets”. Four years later, it turns out that Guzman’s arrest was only the beginning of an ongoing series of arrests that could last for many more years.

It’s been four years since the first raid and Sarasota officials are still conducting statewide stings and making headlines along the way. Most recently, police have named Alex Gomez as the most notorious drug lord they have ever taken into custody. This event occurred in early February of 2014, in a bust that charged nine more alleged members of the now notorious Sarasota Cartel. This new operation, which is a continuation of the original, is being referred to as Operation Sarasota Cartel II. While Gomez has been accused of ring leader status, he could stand to serve just three years in prison, and the maximum penalty he currently faces is a fifteen year sentence.

In Operation Sarasota Cartel II, Florida police have thus far reported uncovering approximately $115,000 in cash along with $500 million worth of illegal substances and paraphernalia. With the alleged kingpin behind bars, it would appear that the problem has officially been solved but this is a claim that was also made in 2010, so the future of this operation could prove even more complex. Rumors of a third addition to the operation have already begun to circulate while details pertaining to the first eleven arrests made in 2010 remain scarce.

Since the majority of these arrests occurred as a result of sting tactics, the suspects could use Unlawful Search and Seizure as a courtroom defense. Other common Florida criminal defenses associated with drug charges include Entrapment and Planted Drugs. Like many drug cases, the evidence is time sensitive and these suspects will have to appear in front of a jury before police can lay claim to a victory.