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Investigators: Drug ring used mobile home

©Associated Press
February 3, 2003

PANAMA CITY -- Authorities say they have made North Florida's largest cocaine seizure -- 231 pounds -- and obtained guilty pleas from 13 suspects.

Investigators suspect the drug ring used a mobile home to smuggle 3,500 pounds of cocaine worth millions of dollars into the Florida Panhandle from El Paso, Texas, during the last two years, Bay County Sheriff Guy Tunnell said Friday.

Texas, Florida, federal and local law enforcement officials seized the 231 pounds between May and August, most of it in Bay County, as well as 40 vehicles.

Investigators in Bay County also seized 794 tablets of Ecstasy, $10,000 worth of firearms, $210,000 in cash and $100,000 in electronics.

"This was the top of the pyramid. These people weren't down on the streets," said sheriff's Investigator Tony Walker.

Alleged ringleader Chedric Gadson, 29, is facing a life sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and marijuana. Seven of the other defendants also could get life sentences.

"Operation Have Van Will Travel" began with a citizen reporting a suspicious van.

Most of the suspects came to Bay County from Fort Lauderdale in early 2000, Walker said. Gadson moved to Port St. Joe about the same time when released from prison after serving two years for cocaine possession and carrying a concealed firearm.

By spring 2002, Gadson had a network of rental houses and storage units in Panama City for the drug operation, investigators said.

Suspects would meet customers in public places, put them in the back of the van and take them to a "stash house," Walker said.

Drugs were brought from Texas in the mobile home with two cars serving as lookouts, Walker said. If necessary, the lookout drivers diverted police attention from the mobile home by breaking traffic laws, he said.

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