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Authorities team up for major drug bust
The investigation started with the killing of a deputy last year.
By JOHN FRANK
Published June 15, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - The investigation of a Polk County cop killer led to the bust of a major Central Florida drug ring and the arrest of more than 20 associates, including two Hernando County employees suspected of outing an undercover narcotics officer, authorities announced Thursday.
Federal, state and local authorities uncovered the sophisticated operation during an eight-month investigation into Angilo Freeland, who shot and killed Polk Deputy Matt Williams and his dog, Diogi, after a traffic stop in September. Authorities say Freeland was a major drug trafficker.
They say Freeland's drug ring spanned from Orlando to Brooksville, where he worked with street-level dealers who in some cases trafficked in more than $500, 000 worth of cocaine a month.
The multi-agency busts in Orange and Hernando counties recovered dozens of firearms, thousands in cash and large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and assorted pills, authorities said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who had promised to hunt down Freeland's drug associates in the wake of Williams' death, was ecstatic as he announced the arrests and seizures during a news conference in Lakeland.
He also released new information about Freeland, saying he was an "enforcer and an assassin" who killed numerous drug dealers in Florida and Central America.
"This was a very violent group of street-level drug dealers, " he said in an interview.
After the Williams' shooting, Freeland was killed during a manhunt by law enforcement officers who fired more than 100 rounds at him, striking him 68 times, as he hid near a downed tree.
In Hernando County, nine suspected members of Freeland's extended drug-trafficking operation were arrested on 50 charges. Federal charges are pending, and four more alleged associates are at large, investigators said at a news conference in Brooksville.
Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent recalled Williams' death and put a picture of the slain officer on two large video screens next to the podium. "This is really a memorial to him, " he said.
The connection was discovered in cell phone records that linked Freeland to 29-year-old Brooksville resident Bobby Walter, also known as "Benny the Bug, " who has a long history of drug arrests.
Using surveillance and wiretaps, deputies and federal investigators tracked Walter and two other top associates to unravel one of the more alarming drug-dealing operations in Hernando history, they said.
What particularly disturbed Nugent were the bullet-proof vests recovered along with the 44 firearms during the sting. "We haven't seen that in the past, " he said. "That is a first for us."
Another bizarre twist was the involvement of two employees of the Clerk of Circuit Court's Office.
Investigators said file clerk Kijafa A. Brown and court clerk Jasmine Rivera are friends of Walter and provided him with confidential information about the identity of an undercover narcotics deputy.
The sheriff and Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai said Brown recognized the deputy when he left a deposition at the courthouse. Brown once worked for the deputy's wife at a runaway shelter. She used private and public records accessible at the clerk's office to track down the deputy's address and follow him home. Brown even called her former boss to question the woman about whether her husband was a deputy.
Nugent said the deputy was the main investigator making controlled drug buys from Walter's organization.
Brown's arrest affidavit says she also "served as a lookout for criminal charges or upcoming law enforcement action that was directed toward Bobby Walter or a member of his drug trafficking organization."
She would relay this information to Rivera, who is Walter's girlfriend, or Lynette Mobley, his half-sister, according to arrest records.
Nicolai said the clerks were valued employees with no signs of trouble. She said Rivera worked there for years and was recently promoted. Both were fired for ethics violations Wednesday.