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5 arrested, linked to drug ring

Special gear helps monitor a cell phone to make the arrests. A half-kilogram of cocaine is seized.

[Times photo: Carlton Ward Jr.]
Sgt. David DeCarlo of the Citrus County Sheriff's Office shows a 9mm semiautomatic pistol Monday that was seized in a weekend drug raid along with cash, cocaine and 23 other weapons.

By CARRIE JOHNSON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 12, 2001


INVERNESS -- Investigators from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office announced Monday they have shut down a drug-trafficking ring that brought more than 3 kilograms of cocaine into the county each month.

Five men, including the man deputies believe is the ring's South Florida cocaine source, were arrested Sunday during an afternoon raid.

"These people were major traffickers," Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said at a Monday news conference. "We've been aware of them for years."

Law enforcement agents also seized about half a kilogram of cocaine, 24 weapons and $13,345 during the bust.

Detective Dave Vincent said the seven-month investigation largely focused on James Morrell, 54, a Crystal River resident. A confidential informant told investigators about Morrell's drug activities and said he conducted most of his transactions on his cellular phone.

Using special technology purchased by the Sheriff's Office for the investigation, detectives tapped Morrell's cellular phone and began to listen to his conversations. The equipment cost about $5,000, Vincent said.

Starting May 18, investigators listened to Morrell's cellular phone conversations from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Soon they were able to identify the other alleged members of the ring. There was Mark L. Baker, 43, the owner of Baker Electric, a Crystal River business where much of the cocaine was stored. Also, Carmelo Figueroa, 54, a Kissimmee resident whom authorities believe was the ring's link to a drug source in South Florida.

Robert Chapman, 50, of Inverness, is believed to be a distributor of cocaine on the county's east side. The final member targeted was Raymond Vasaya, 59, of Homosassa, whom authorities call a mid-level dealer.

With help from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Sheriff's Office planned a sting. From the telephone calls, detectives were able to determine that a meeting with Figueroa was planned for the weekend. For safety reasons, deputies decided to wait until after the meeting was over to make their move, Vincent said.

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Figueroa was arrested during a traffic stop near the intersection of U.S. 19 and Cardinal Street. Ten minutes later, Morrell was pulled over on U.S. 19 in Homosassa and arrested for violating Florida drug laws.

Search warrants had been issued for Baker Electric and the homes of Vasaya and Chapman. Baker was arrested at 2:45 p.m., after his store had been searched. Vasaya was apprehended outside his Homosassa residence about 6:30 p.m., and Chapman was arrested at 11:30 p.m.

Morrell's home and business were also searched.

"It was a major, significant bust," said Sgt. David DeCarlo, head of the narcotics unit for the Sheriff's Office.

Most of the men have criminal histories and some are associates of the Pagans, a motorcycle gang believed to be involved in organized crime, said DeCarlo. Baker was arrested at the Pagans clubhouse in Homosassa in December of 2000 for allegedly failing to report an aggravated assault.

Vasaya was arrested in September of 2000 and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He has also been charged with violation of probation.

Figueroa, who used to live in Citrus County, was arrested in Crystal River in August, 1995, and accused of maliciously shooting into an occupied dwelling.

Chapman was arrested in September of 2000 for alleged possession of cocaine. The previous year, he had been charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, carrying a concealed weapon and driving with an illegal license plate.

Vincent said the investigation is continuing and arrests of more dealers are possible.

The half of a kilogram of cocaine seized during the raid is more than four times the amount of cocaine confiscated for the entire year of 2000 by the Sheriff's Office, said Ronda Hemminger Evan, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

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