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Deputies say drug ring is broken

Nine people are arrested, including four in St. Petersburg.

By JONATHAN ABEL and JOHN FRANK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 12, 2007

[Joseph Garnett, Jr. | Times]
About 70 pounds of pot was seized in Pinellas County, deputies say. The Sheriff's Office worked with other agencies on the case.

ST. PETERSBURG - Using rental cars and shipping companies, a St. Petersburg-based drug ring smuggled more than 8,000 pounds of marijuana from Mexico to Pinellas County in the past two years, authorities said Thursday.

Some of that pot ended up in the hands of street-level dealers, whose arrests in 2006 helped investigators begin to piece together the larger smuggling operation.

On Thursday, after an 18-month investigation, authorities announced they had broken up the ring and arrested nine people on federal trafficking charges. Four of the arrests were made in St. Petersburg, four in Tucson, Ariz., and one in Las Vegas.

The operation, dubbed "Cannabis Express," involved local, state and federal agencies and seized a total of 2,000 pounds of marijuana and $150,000 in cash.

"This is an organization that has done nothing but bring marijuana into Pinellas County and we're shutting it down," said Capt. Michael Platt, head of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office narcotics division. "You take out an organization like this and you've kicked them in the shin."

At a news conference Thursday, Platt explained the organization had members acquiring marijuana in Arizona and elsewhere. Smugglers would then repackage the drugs for shipment to Pinellas.

Sometimes they used delivery companies. Other times, they would hide the drugs in car door panels or hire drivers to ferry it across the country, Platt said. Shipments ranged from small quantities to several hundred pounds at a time.

Authorities said more arrests are likely.

The four men apprehended in St. Petersburg were identified as Maurice C. Hemingway, 29, considered the local leader of the group; Antwan D. Cummings, 30; Derek L. Lane, 31; and Aaron C. George, 23.

Hemingway and Cummings have extensive criminal records in Pinellas, each with more than 20 arrests, records show.

George has been arrested twice on marijuana possession while Lane has no local record. If convicted, the men could face up to life in prison.

Detectives said the arrests affect not only the local drug trade, but other crimes that it funds.

"There is a huge amount of money this criminal element is making and then they're using that for other criminal activity," Lt. Robert Alfonso said.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at or 727 445-4157.

[Last modified October 11, 2007, 23:48:03]

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