The Times' Ben Montgomery on a North Florida arrowhead sting: What's the point?
Jacky Fuller was sound asleep beside his wife of 33 years when pounding at the door jolted him awake. The 54-year-old father of two and faithful Jehovah's Witness stumbled out of bed in his underwear. It was not yet dawn, but the doorbell was ringing, and the pounding sounded like someone about to knock the door off the hinges. Heart hammering, he pulled open the door and stared into gun barrels.
Whoever had come for him wore helmets and bulletproof vests and carried tactical rifles, and as they pulled him outside at his home in Fortson, Ga., they said he was under arrest.
The agents were with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Division of Law Enforcement. That same morning, Feb. 27, other agents pounded on Terry Tinsley's door outside Tallahassee. He's 52 and hard of hearing, and his house had been broken into twice before, so he had been sleeping with a handgun within reach. He grabbed his weapon, ready to fire on the first intruder, when he heard someone shout: "Law enforcement!"
At 25-year-old Nate Curtis' home, not far away in Havana, agents handcuffed his wife, he claimed, and seized his computers and cellphone. William Walters, 48, said agents surrounded his truck in Dade City as he headed to work. Shawn Novak wasn't home, but agents harassed his wife at work until she gave them permission to search their house, said Novak, 47. "They tortured my wife all day long," he said. "They threatened her, saying they were going to break the door down."
In all, FWC agents raided six homes, arrested 14 people from Big Pine Key to south Georgia, and charged them with more than 400 felonies. The raids capped a two-year undercover investigation that cost the state more than $130,000, not including the cost of the tactical raids or subsequent prosecution. The sting, called Operation Timucua, netted people with clean criminal records, including a brick mason, a 24-year military veteran and a 74-year-old retired University of South Florida professor. It drove suspects into debt and wrecked their reputations. One man got divorced. One committed suicide.
The mission: to stop the buying and selling of artifacts.