Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

As Pam Bondi announces crackdown on prescription drug abuse, 55 arrested in Hillsborough

TAMPA — In Tallahassee and Tampa, authorities took aim Thursday at the sources of the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

Armed with a stack of 88 warrants, Hillsborough deputies arrested dozens accused of dealing prescription pills. They led the men and women — ages 21 to 73 — from their homes, some in pajamas, and booked them on charges of possession and delivery.

Meanwhile, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced a multipronged strategy to address so-called pill mills, including legislative recommendations.

"We are the epicenter for the country in prescription drug abuse," she said at an hourlong news conference in Tallahassee. "Cracking down on pill mills is one of our top priorities."

Key provisions of Bondi's legislative proposal include:

• Mandatory six-month suspension and a $10,000 fine for doctors who violate standards of care when prescribing controlled substances.

• A felony conviction for people who lie on applications to run pain clinics.

• Criminal penalties for doctors who fail to perform a physical exam before dispensing 72 hours' worth of controlled substances.

• Fines for keepers of controlled substances who fail to report thefts to law enforcement within 48 hours.

Hillsborough authorities have already raided suspicious clinics and tried to prosecute a physician. On Thursday, they set their sights on the streets.

During the past three months, undercover deputies bought and sold pills and interviewed witnesses for Operation Pain Reliever.

They prepared 88 warrants but waited to make arrests en masse, hoping to draw publicity. By Thursday afternoon, deputies had arrested 55 people.

"It's the tip of the iceberg," said sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway. "But putting a lot of people in jail sends a message."

Oxycodone was the most popular pill, selling for $10 to $15 on Hillsborough streets, said Maj. Donna Luscynski.

"It's the crack of this generation," she said.

Among those arrested was Ross Dudley Thomas Jr., a 46-year-old man who says he's homeless. He was charged with delivering and possessing hydrocodone and cannabis.

As deputies led Thomas past a group of reporters, he denied selling pills. Florida records show he has been arrested for panhandling along Florida Avenue intersections.

And though Thomas has been convicted of trespassing, petty theft, battery and criminal mischief, state records show this was his first drug arrest.

Also arrested was 73-year-old Thomas Hilton Bennington Jr., who lives at New Beginnings of Tampa, which provides temporary housing for veterans and others in need. He was convicted of cocaine possession in 2008, state records show.

Deputies believe some of the suspects got their pills legitimately and sold them. Others went "doctor shopping," Luscynski said.

The Sheriff's Office planned to interview each suspect for possible leads to dealers and unscrupulous clinics.

Hillsborough will get help prosecuting such cases.

Statewide prosecutor Nick Cox said that Bondi's office would assign a prosecutor temporarily to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

She shared the dais at Thursday's Tallahassee news conference with former South Florida Sen. Dave Aronberg, whom Bondi hired to serve as Florida's drug czar.

South Florida has been particularly hard hit, with 9 million oxycodone tablets prescribed in Broward and Palm Beach counties in the first six months of 2010, she said.

"These are legal drug dealers," Aronberg said. "There are now more pill mills in Broward County than there are McDonald's in Broward County."

A statewide response is necessary to end "drug tourism," he said.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Ileana Morales contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or

As Pam Bondi announces crackdown on prescription drug abuse, 55 arrested in Hillsborough 02/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 11:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Yale dean on leave over offensive Yelp reviews leaves post

    Bizarre News

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Yale University dean who was placed on leave over offensive reviews she posted on Yelp has left her position at the Ivy League institution, school officials said Tuesday.

  2. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  3. The people you meet along O.J. Howard Lane


    AUTAUGAVILLE, Ala. —The screen door hangs open to Laura's Country Kitchen but the dining room is empty with no one to feed.

    OJ Howard (far right) is seen in a photo from his adolescent years at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala., on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Howard served as an usher in addition to attending regular services at this church.
  4. St. Pete Pride schedule and live blog

    Special Topics

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth Avenue …

    A local business rings in Pride 2017 with some window decorations.