Drug Trafficking Ring Shut Down After Successful Multi-Agency Task Force

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

On March 19, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice, through Unites States Attorney Pamela Marsh, announced the end of a successful drug task force operation called Operation King of the Trap.  In that operation, a combination of many federal and Florida state law enforcement agencies combined to help wipe out a drug trafficking ring that had been supplying different drugs to the Florida Panhandle.  The ring distributed hundreds of pounds of marijuana and cocaine between 2008 and 2013.  43 different people were prosecuted in the sting for various crimes leading to federal sentences ranging from 3 years to life.  The names of the defendants have not been released.  In addition to the ring being broken up, drugs, money and guns were seized in the operation.

Large drug task force operations such as this one are usually prosecuted the same as any other organized crime case under RICO.  This federal law was passed in the early 70’s to deal with organized crimes such as mafia crimes, the types of crimes that most people associate with organized crime.  RICO dealt specifically with some of the loopholes that organized crimes were taking advantage of where it became difficult for the federal government to prosecute all the members of a criminal organization or where such an organization was able to hide assets. 

One of the main components of RICO are laws that help prosecute the heads of a crime ring such as the crime ring targeted in “King of the Trap”.  Because of RICO, crime bosses could be convicted with crimes they ordered others to do rather than committed themselves, if the laws broken were in some specific categories such as drug trafficking.  In order to be charged with racketeering under RICO, at least two of these crimes would have to be committed within a 10-year period.  This would mean that a person who was the head of a drug operation such as the one targeted in Florida could be criminally responsible for the crimes he or she had others commit over a long period, leading to a very heavy sentence.  Some examples of crimes that could be prosecuted under RICO besides drug crimes would include money laundering, bribery, murder or terrorism.  Besides federal racketeering laws, most of the states have RICO laws, including Florida.

It must be noted that, in the Justice Department’s announcement, it does not specifically say if any of the defendants were prosecuted under federal RICO laws, but it does seem very likely based on the number of defendants and the size of the task force.  There were 43 defendants prosecuted based on various drug crimes.  The scope of this type of case is an indicator that there was most likely racketeering charges here because this is the type of case that RICO was meant to prosecute.