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18 arrested in beach city drug sweep; more coming

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 7, 2002

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Barbara Tillery answered the door in her bare feet, surprised to see a deputy on her stoop.

"What am I being arrested for?" she asked.

Tillery, 42, arrested on charges of selling and possessing prescription hydrocodone, was the first of 18 people charged with drug crimes Thursday in Indian Rocks Beach and the surrounding area. Sheriff's deputies hope to arrest 16 more suspects this week.

The bust is the culmination of a four-month investigation spurred by complaints from residents.

The case involved undercover buyers who purchased powder or crack cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs from city residents or employees at businesses. Suspects were picked up in their homes, at work or at favorite hangouts. Ten deputies worked in pairs throughout the afternoon Thursday, tracking down suspects and bringing them to the command post: the auditorium of Indian Rocks Beach City Hall.

Sheriff's employees took pictures of the suspects as they arrived at City Hall, taping the shots to a wall to keep track of who had been processed.

The pictures showed everyone from a shirtless 19-year-old flashing hand signals at the camera to a 46-year-old insurance salesman wearing a tie.

With 34 suspects in the small beach town of 5,000, Sheriff's officials ranked Thursday's drug bust as significant for the barrier islands.

"We've never seen this many people in a little beach city," Sheriff's narcotics Lt. Mike Calder said. "If we start going to an area and start working it and it's significant like this, we will keep working it."

Sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha described the suspects as "folks that are local selling to folks that are local."

Several of the undercover drug purchases were made from employees at Whitey's Beach Bar, including bartenders who wrapped the drugs in napkins and included the cost of the drugs in the bar tab. Whitey's and the Red Lion Restaurant and British Pub, also in Indian Rocks Beach, were the sites of two deadly bar fights within one month last year.

Undercover drug purchases were also made in the past four months at the Red Lion, though Sheriff's officials are quick to point out that the sellers were patrons, not employees, and the Red Lion's new owners are trying to repair the bar's reputation.

Sheriff's Office community policing officers assigned to Indian Rocks Beach aided the investigation and Thursday's arrest.

Tom Brobeil, Indian Rocks Beach's city manager, said the small town's changing demographic helped contribute to the large drug roundup. More young families who have moved in and bought high-priced homes are no longer tolerant of certain lifestyles, he said.

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